After letting another game against the Brooklyn Nets slip through their fingers in the waning seconds, this time in overtime, the Denver Nuggets look for redemption against the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks beat the Nuggets in overtime as well in their last meeting, and that was the game that potentially cost Danilo Gallanari the rest of the season after he turned his ankle. The Nuggets might want some revenge but will have to bring a team effort on both offense and defense without Gallo to make that happen.
Dallas, meanwhile, is trying to keep its playoff positioning intact as the Portland Trail Blazers are charging hard and the Rockets are... well, they're hanging around. With Utah slumping it's hard to see them running down a playoff spot, but Dallas would like to avoid the Spurs and Warriors in the first round if they can help it. Every game is important for them down the stretch, and they really need to take care of business against non-playoff teams like the Nuggets.
|Dallas Mavericks||Denver Nuggets||Advantage|
|PG||Deron Williams||Emmanuel Mudiay||Even
|SG||Wesley Matthews||Gary Harris||Even
|SF||Chandler Parsons||JaKarr Sampson||Mavericks|
|PF||Dirk Nowitzki||Kenneth Faried||Mavericks|
|C||Zaza Pachulia||Nikola Jokic||Even
|Bench||Raymond Felton, Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, David Lee, Salah Mejri, Charlie Villanueva, Dwight Powell, Justin Anderson||Will Barton, Darrell Arthur, D.J. Augustin, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Jameer Nelson, Axel Toupane||Even
Key Matchup: Chandler Parsons vs. JaKarr Sampson. Bear with me here. Parsons has been on FIRE over his last 20 games:
Chandler Parsons in the last 20 games: 20.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.8 apg, 54.4 FG%, 51.4 3%. Parsons, who has never... https://t.co/NVRdRVFxyc— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) March 4, 2016
JaKarr Sampson was brought to Denver to solidify the defense, but has been hard to watch on both ends since his arrival. He has an infectiously good attitude and plays hard, but from his airballed threes to his ridiculous turnovers it's hard to see him playing in place of Gallinari for long minutes. This is a clear directive for him, however: win the defensive battle against Parsons in a perfect example of the the role he wants going forward.
This game should be a good test for most of Denver's players: Faried and Arthur get Dirk, Jokic and Lauvergne deal with Zaza, Harris has to both contain and keep up with Matthews. But JaKarr is not a scorer. For him to keep up, he has to hold Parsons down. Consider it a very serious audition, JaKarr - next year's contract isn't guaranteed.
Key thing to watch for: Leadership. One of the few good things to come out of Gallo's injury could be the extra leadership opportunities it affords to Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay took control the last couple of games against the Lakers and the Nets. I assumed his outburst against the Lakers (22 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds) was due to his rivalry with D'Angelo Russell, but he followed it up with 25 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds against the Nets. Neither of those teams has much of a defensive presence, but with Gallinari out Mudiay is playing like he wants the leadership mantle back on his shoulders. Since the Nuggets with JaKarr Sampson boast the youngest average starting age in the league, that's not an outrageous thought. Mudiay and Jokic run a rather passable offense when they're on the floor together.
When they're not out there, things break down. D.J. Augustin and Will Barton take turns from the bench running a "give me the ball and get the hell outta my way" offense. When it works, like Augustin's 22 points in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, it seems like a good idea. When Barton is bricking threes down the stretch (he's 3-for-22 behind the arc in his last 5 games) you wish he'd pass it - except that he has 17 turnovers in the same timeframe, so he really can't pass it. The Nuggets are going to have to trust Mudiay to run the show, as he has the last two games. Leadership from a 19 year old isn't usually Plan A, but the Nuggets need him to prove he can continue with this scoring touch, rim finishing and floor generalship against more than just the bottom-feeders.
If the rest of this season is educational, then hopefully Malone puts it in Mudiay's hands as much as possible, since he's the one with the most to learn.
Prediction: Denver remembers defense for at least two quarters, one of which is the last one, and manages a victory 105-98.