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Preview: Nuggets return for road game against Mavericks

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Refreshed after the All-Star break, the Nuggets begin the stretch run with a road game against the youthful Mavericks.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After going over a week without basketball, the Nuggets are back in action tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.

While the Nuggets coaching staff was busy over the break at the All-Star Game, with Jokic appearing in the Skills Challenge and the actual game (JOKIC ALL-STAR WOOO), the rest of the team had a chance to rest and recover for the final 25 games.

If you missed basketball, join the club. Our long midseason nightmare is over, and for the first time in years, it looks like a lock that the Nuggets season won’t end after 82 games.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (39-18, 14-14 away) at Dallas Mavericks (26-31, 20-9 home)

When: 6:30PM MST

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: Mavs Moneyball

Projected Lineups

POS DEN DAL EDGE
POS DEN DAL EDGE
PG Jamal Murray Luke Doncic Mavericks
SG Gary Harris Tim Hardaway Jr Even
SF Will Barton Dorian Finney-Smith Nuggets
PF Paul Millsap Maxi Kleber Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Salah Mejri Nuggets
BENCH Monte Morris, Isaiah Thomas, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Mason Plumlee, Jarred Vanderbilt Jalen Brunson, Devin Harris, Justin Jackson, Dwight Powell, Courtney Lee, Trey Burke, Dirk Nowitzki Nuggets
Daniel Lewis/Denver Stiffs

INJURIES - Trey Lyles (out - hamstring), Michael Porter Jr. (out - redshirt)

Three things to watch

Don’t let Luka catch fire. Doncic is a problem, even as a 19-year-old rookie. His stepback 3-pointer is one of the most difficult shots in the league to defend, and at his size, he can create a shot opportunity against nearly every defender in the league. Sounds like a great matchup to bring Gary Harris back against!

In all seriousness (the aforementioned idea is not a good one) this is a matchup that screams Torrey Craig. Craig has the size and determination to stick to Doncic’s hip, and with the Nuggets able to sag off Dorian Finney-Smith, they’ll have the freedom to double Doncic once he drives into the paint. Let Finney-Smith shoot all the jumpers — just don’t leave Kleber or Hardaway Jr. open on a rotation. When the Mavs go small, embrace the chance to switch a big onto Doncic, forcing him to drive and score.

Get into transition. The Mavericks are a good home team, but they’re not a team that scores a ton of points. That usually results in Rick Carlisle putting smaller lineups on the court, with his German bigs taking turns at the center position. With that many small guards, there are opportunities for the Nuggets wings - Harris, Craig, Barton, but especially Beasley - to get into transition and finish over smaller defenders. If Plumlee or Millsap can get a head start down the court, they should have easy post-up opportunities against guys that can’t stop them near the rim. The Nuggets halfcourt offense can cook with the best teams in the league, but getting easy points in transition should help finish the Mavericks.

What is the rotation? Michael Malone announced that Gary Harris and Paul Millsap would be available tonight, sneaking in a mention that the team considered shutting Harris down for the season. I don’t know how he can go from “missing the rest of the season” to “healthy to play tonight,” but that makes me think he shouldn’t be playing more than 15-20 minutes for a few weeks. Isaiah Thomas is back, but now Trey Lyles is out. Lyles, despite his struggles, was a consistent member of the rotation, and now his minutes need to be filled by ... someone? Many people might want to see Juancho Hernangomez. Others may want to see Jarred Vanderbilt. I’m sure there are some that think those minutes belong to Craig. It would be nice to see them establish a rotation that they can stick to down the stretch tonight against the Mavericks.

Prediction

Just like 2013. Oops, wrong sport .. eh, you get the idea. Nuggets win.