The Denver Nuggets have won two games in a row and will look to make it three tonight when the Dallas Mavericks pay them a visit. After a rocky start to 2018, Denver has found a foothold with back to back wins. However, with their schedule about to get much tougher, there’s no time for mental lapses and the Nuggets need to take care of business against the lottery bound Mavericks. There will be no excuses for them tonight.

The Mavericks hobble into Denver with a large chunk of their bench absent from injuries. They also are coming in just struggling in general. Dallas has dropped 5 of its last 6 games and find themselves just a half game ahead of the Sacramento Kings for the basement of the Western Conference. However, the Mavericks have given Denver plenty of trouble this season, beating them back in early December in Dallas and then nearly pulling off an epic comeback just a couple of weeks ago in Denver. The Nuggets can ill afford to overlook this team or they could find themselves on the wrong side of the win/loss column once again.

The Basics

Who: Dallas Mavericks (15-30) at Denver Nuggets (23-21)

When: 7:00PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM 950

Rival blog: Mavs Moneyball

Position Nuggets Mavericks Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Dennis Smith Jr. Nuggets
SG Gary Harris Wes Matthews Nuggets
SF Will Barton Harrison Barnes Even
PF Trey Lyles Maximilian Kleber Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Dirk Nowitzki Nuggets
Bench Wilson Chandler, Mason Plumlee, Emmanuel Mudiay, Torrey Craig Yogi Ferrel, J.J. Barea, Salah Mejri, Dwight Powell, Kyle Collinsworth Even

Injured players: Tyler Lydon – out (knee), Paul Millsap – out (wrist), Nerlens Noel – out (thumb), Dorian Finney-Smith – out (knee), Devin Harris – out (personal), Seth Curry – out (leg)

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Dirk Nowitzki

Coach Michael Malone has said that he likes to try to make Dirk defend and wear him out on that end so expect coach to go with the smaller lineup and leave Mason Plumlee coming off the bench. Last matchup between these two went heavily in the favor of Jokic who put up 29 pts, 18 reb and 7 ast to Dirk’s 6 pts and 4 rebs. Obviously Nowitzki is not what he was but he’s still a leader on the court and can still hurt you with his jump shot. If Jokic can repeat what he did last time against the Mavericks and neutralize Dirk by making him work full time on defense then the game should tilt heavily in favor of Denver

Key thing to watch for: can Denver stop dribble penetration?

The thing that will keep the Mavericks in the game is their guard play, particularly for the point guard position. Devin Harris being out helps but Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell and J.J. Barea all have pretty much gotten whatever they’ve wanted in the first two matchups between these two teams. All of these guys are quick off the dribble and finish well around the basket. With the Nuggets likely to go small they aren’t going to present much in the way of rim protection so it will be on Denver’s guards to play good defense and not allow Dallas’ quick guards to blow past them.

Opening thought: got to get this one

As I said, the Nuggets schedule is about to get a lot harder. After tonight they’ll play a back to back against the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs to close out January and then February might be the most brutal stretch of the season in terms of talent faced. The Nuggets will play just two teams that appear to be out of the playoff picture the entire month (Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Hornets…also two teams the Nuggets have lost to this season). The saving grace of February is Denver will play a lot of games at home, but then March is an absolute slog with only 4 home games the entire month. Point being, January was supposed to be where Denver made hay but they floundered and now go into the tough stretch of the season with playoff position still up in the air. They absolutely have to get the win against Dallas tonight to carry momentum into this upcoming difficult period.

Prediction: Nuggets 124 – Mavericks 117

Pregame Audio: Michael Malone