Denver: 17-12 (9-5 on the road)
Streak: Won 2
Dallas: 18-11 (11-5 at home)
Streak: Won 4
Denver: Timofey Mozgov (left ankle sprain) and Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) are both out. Nene (left calf strain) is a game-time decision. Arron Afflalo (left ankle sprain) and Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) are probable.
Season Series: 1-1 (each team winning on the road)
While young teams like the Nuggets, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Timberwolves and Rockets seemed to weather the early part of this lockout season quite well, their elder counterparts - notably the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks - are once again showing the NBA why they compete for championships annually. The Spurs and Mavericks in particular have won eight and four consecutive games and eight and seven out of their last 10, respectively. Point being, this is NOT the Mavericks the team that your Nuggets trounced in Dallas the day after Christmas.
We Nuggets fans know this first hand, of course. As it was these Mavericks who came into Denver last Wednesday (with a three-game losing streak in hand) and handled the Nuggets easily 105-95 by simply playing better basketball: the Mavericks out-scored, out-rebounded and out-assisted the Nuggets while committing several less turnovers, too. For whatever reason, the Nuggets felt "small" out there against the Mavericks last week and just couldn't deal with the matchups inside. Collectively, the tall Maverick players like Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi all had good games against Denver. Oddly, the tallest Maverick - Brendan Haywood - was largely ineffective.
Including that victory, the Mavericks have racked up four consecutive impressive victories: at Denver, at Minnesota and home against Portland and the Clippers. I wouldn't - and they wouldn't - say they're playing championship-caliber basketball (after all, who is this season anyway?), but they're starting to get that championship groove back. Listening to Nuggets small forward / shooting guard Corey Brewer with Scott Hastings and Drew Goodman on 104.3 The Fan the other day, Brewer - a former Maverick - said that when he was in Dallas they expected to win every game. It seems like that attitude is back in Big D.
But maybe, just maybe, the Mavericks will see a better Nuggets team tonight. After losing five straight games (including that Mavericks game), the Nuggets are starting to get their act together. They won at Indiana on Saturday night - no small feat - and followed that up by a Valentine's Day massacre over the Steve Nash-less Suns (with a Nene-less Nuggets team, I might add).
More importantly, starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo is improving dramatically after a sluggish and disappointing start. If the Nuggets are to extend their two-game winning streak to three, they need a big game out of Afflalo tonight. When the Nuggets and Mavericks met last week, Afflalo finished 4-12 from the field, was 2-8 from three-point range, had no rebounds, just 1 assist, 2 turnovers and a +/- of -21 while getting torched by Vince Carter and Rodrigue Beaubois.
All that said, I can't say I'm optimistic about the Nuggets chances tonight. The Mavericks have been playing well and have been home since Saturday. Meanwhile, the Nuggets - due to their assortment of injuries - continue to shuffle lineups while the Mavericks - devoid of injuries at present - have been able to play fairly consistently lately.
SCOUTING THE MAVERICKS
-Dirk Nowitzki: Nowitzki may be having one of his worst statistical seasons ever and, by his own admission, one of his worst seasons ever, but Dirk is still Dirk. He commands respect and can go for 30 any night. I suspect the Nuggets rested Nene Hilario against Phoenix last night knowing they'd need him against Nowitzki tonight.
-Jason Terry: The other Mavericks staple beside Nowitzki, Terry's numbers are down a bit, too, but he remains one of the top threats off an NBA bench.
-Lamar Odom: Odom appears to still not have recovered from being traded to Dallas in the first place. His field goal percentage is a career-low (and then some) 35.8%, his minutes are down and his game is just ... off. But as Nuggets fans know, a big night from Odom usually equals a victory for the team he plays for.
-Vince Carter: Now 35 years old, Carter is having his worst statistical season ever and yet still expects the referees to give him the respect he once garnered.
Don't expect a Nuggets victory and if they pull this one off, chalk it up under the "games they weren't supposed to win but did" category!