As of the writing of this preview, the Dallas Mavericks are the NBA's hottest team, having won 10 straight games while launching themselves into the Western Conference's two-seed spot. Could Thursday's Nuggets/Mavericks matchup be a playoff preview?
Many Denver Stiffs readers cringe when I say things like this, but as a ticket-paying fan I'm glad Thursday's Nuggets vs. Mavericks matchup will feature both teams playing the second of the dreaded Pacific Coast-to-Mountain Time Zone back-to-back. The toughest back-to-back in professional basketball. This means that the two teams will be relatively evenly matched energy-wise and thus it could be a preview of an April playoff matchup.
Currently ensconced in the Western Conference's seventh overall position, the Nuggets are a likely opponent for anyone who claims the two-seed. If Carmelo Anthony remains a Nugget, the Nuggets will finish somewhere between seventh and fifth. Should Melo be traded for the dreck being offered by the New York Knicks, they'll be lucky to be an eighth-seed. Should the Nuggets pull off a miracle and land Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum in Denver in exchange for Melo, a Bynum/Nene combination almost assures the Nuggets of staying in the seventh spot.
And with the way the Mavericks have been playing lately, the two-seed could very well be theirs. At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks were the NBA's second-hottest team, taking a backseat only to their Texas rivals in San Antonio. They were 24-5 to open the season before their superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki sustained a scary knee injury. In fact, before Nowitzki got hurt the Mavericks were on a five-game winning streak soon after completing a 12-game winning streak.
During Nowitzki's absence and including his first two games back, the Mavericks found themselves stuck in a six-game losing streak. And to be fair, much of this was also the result of losing former All-Star Caron Butler for the season due a knee injury himself. But since Nowitzki has returned to reasonably decent health (he's not even 100% yet which scary, the Mavericks have won 10 of 11 games prior to Wednesday night's game against the Kings in Sacramento ... which Dallas won 102-100.
Unfortunately for our Nuggets ... who need every win they can get their hands on if they're to make the playoffs in a possible post-Melo reality ... they're catching the Mavericks on the upswing again. And yet, this may not be a bad thing for Denver. After all, among the Mavericks' five early season losses was a home game against our Nuggets (watched live at the Jake's bar/restaurant during our second annual "Stiffs Night Out" event) on November 6th, just days after eeking out a victory at Pepsi Center 102-101 thanks to Melo's would-be game-winning shot circling the rim but never falling through.
So in theory the Nuggets can handle the Mavericks. In theory. Lately, the Nuggets haven't been able to handle any team of substance. Sure, they beat the back-to-back playing, injury-riddled Trail Blazers at Pepsi Center a week ago, but other than that victory the Nuggets have come up empty against decent teams, as we witnessed in recent losses to the Lakers, 76ers, Jazz, Rockets and Warriors.
I was at the November 3rd game against Dallas when Melo barely missed that game-winning jump shot. That feels like a lifetime ago. There have been so many almost-trades, what-if-trades, and nonsensical drama surrounding the future whereabouts of Melo since then that if I were to recap the season to date I wouldn't even know where to start.
But looking at the Nuggets upcoming schedule from a broader perspective, Thursday's matchup with Dallas could very well be Melo's second-to-last game in a Nuggets uniform (if he were to be traded by February 24th, the NBA's trade deadline). And on a personal note, it could be the last time I see Melo live in a Nuggets jersey since I don't have tickets to the February 22nd game against the Grizzlies (at least, not yet).
So as I've been forced to ponder during every Nuggets game this season: will I be witnessing the end of an era?
SCOUTING THE MAVERICKS
-Dirk Nowitzki: Dirk is an absolute stud. There's no other way to describe the guy. Now into his 13th NBA season, the big German is averaging a career-high for field goal percentage and is playing more efficiently than ever before.
-Tyson Chandler: After escaping the mess that is the Charlotte Bobcats, Chandler has been rejuvenated in Dallas to the tune of 10.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.2 bpg. How the Mavericks could get their hands on Chandler during the offseason while the best the Nuggets could get was overpaying for Al Harrington is beyond comprehension.
-Jason Terry: Terry remains as one of the NBA's premier sixth men, averaging almost 16 points off the bench. If only J.R. Smith could give the Nuggets consistent production like Terry does for Dallas.
-Brendan Haywood: Be careful what you wish for when it comes to signing big men. The Mavericks gave Haywood a most generous extension that pays him $10.5 million ... in 2015-16, and he has rewarded them with his worst season to date, averaging a career-low 3.8 ppg and 4.6 rpg as Tyson Chandler has taken over the starting duties. I guess someone had to take on the Erick Dampier role in Dallas.
-DeShawn Stevenson: Stevenson is actually having a good season by Stevenson's low standards, but the neck tattoo says it all and he'll forever be a Stiff to me.
Despite having the NBA's fourth-best record, the Mavericks are very beatable as we saw when Cleveland almost took them down in Dallas on Monday night. Given that they're an aging team playing the second of a back-to-back, this is a very winnable game for Denver.
Opposition's Take: Mavs Moneyball