The next edition of the biggest game of the Denver Nuggets season will air tonight from the Pepsi Center as the Dallas Mavericks roll into town.  Be aware that this is a rare mid week 6:00 PM home game.

Here are three facts that lead me to believe Denver will win this game tonight:

  1. Dallas is 0-8 against teams with a record over .500 since Jason Kidd started suiting up for them.
  1. Dirk Nowitzki is not playing tonight.
  1. The game is in Denver where the Nuggets have won six straight and 16 of their last 18.

If the Nuggets win they will not only pull to within a game of seventh in the West, which I thought was impossible just a week ago, but they will win the season series with Dallas 2-1 giving them the all important head to head tiebreaker.

So far Dallas has played one game without Dirk and they easily defeated the Clippers.  I watched a little of that game as I was wondering what style Dallas would play without Dirk.  Would they go small and run or would they slow it down and try to play a half court grinding game?  The answer turned out to be what you would expect from Avery Johnson, who I suspect sits on anything over 11 if he is playing blackjack because if you have a 12 and get a ten or a face card you go bust and that would be just plain stupid.  Of course this analogy is a poor one because Avery would probably never gamble on anything in the first place, but you get the idea.

Dallas played at a slow pace ending up with 94 possessions for the game.  That was slightly higher than their pace factor for the season of 92.5 due to a fast paced first quarter that saw Dallas total 27 possessions.

Erik Dampier and Josh Howard stepped up in a big way with Dampier putting up 19 points and 17 rebounds while Howard scored 32 points thanks to going 15 for 15 from the free throw line.

I would have expected a larger role for Brandon Bass, but Johnson chose to start Malik Allen and inexplicably played him for 27 minutes, which is eight more than his previous high since joining the Mavs as part of the Kidd trade.

Ah, speaking of the Kidd trade, Kidd has been less than stellar since joining the Mavs.  In March he is shooting 35% from the floor and just closed out a stretch of nine straight single digit scoring games thanks to his ten points against the Clippers.  Kidd did start off his return to Dallas with some hot shooting from three point range, but that has slowed recently as he has shot only 3-14 over his last four games.  He has also reigned in his turnovers a little as well, but Dallas cannot be real thrilled swapping out an up and coming point guard who was great on the defensive end and consistently improving on offense for a point guard who is weak on defense and at his best when not micromanaged by the coach.

From a matchup standpoint, it will be interesting to see if Avery Johnson has Kidd or Jerry Stackhouse guard Allen Iverson.  I would guess that Kidd would get the call. Either way, AI should be able to do whatever he wants.  Kidd is still considered a good defender by many who have not actually watched him play lately, but he is no longer even adequate when his team does not have the ball.  

Dallas played a very tough game against the Lakers at the Staples Center on Sunday, March 2nd.  Towards the end of the game Dallas sent Kidd to try to slow down Kobe who was having a special day.  Now, it is no sin to allow Kobe to drive by you, but Kobe was able to get past Kidd before Kidd could even react.  

It was startling how wooden Kidd looked.  What was even more sad, or funny, about it was Kidd was pressuring Kobe when he was 30 feet from the hoop basically playing him as if he was a great defender who was going to take everything away.  Kidd may be so self absorbed that he does not know that he is a horrible defender.  If Kidd is guarding AI tonight, expect AI to have a lot of fun scoring tonight.

Dampier is a big boy that Camby will struggle to defend both in the post and when going for rebounds.  Dampier is always one of the top offensive rebounders when adjusted per 48 minutes and Marcus and Kenyon Martin will have their hands full.  Hopefully Denver will face more of Malik Allen than Brandon Bass as the Clippers did, because Bass is a beast and one of the most underrated players in the NBA.

Josh Howard will be very aggressive and if he and Melo are guarding each other a key to the game will be if either on of those two get in early foul trouble.  Most likely it will be Howard, because Melo probably will not be close enough to Josh to get called for a foul.

Another key player for the Mavs is Jason Terry.  He can carry this team on offense for games at a time.  If I am George Karl I am making sure that Anthony Carter is always in the game at the same time as Jason Terry, because if any other Nugget is guarding him he will get a plethora of open threes and nice mid range shots after curling off of a screen.

On paper, Dallas really should have no shot at winning this game and there certainly is a chance Denver could just run right by them.  You better believe Dallas is every bit as desperate to win this game as the Nuggets are.  While I fully expect a Nugget victory, they are going to get a very strong effort from the Mavericks.

Check out the top notch Mavs Moneyball for some Mav centric blogging on tonight's game and make sure you leave your thoughts below either before, during or after the game.