The first ever NBA cup has officially arrived. Tonight is the start of group play for the Denver Nuggets (and the rest of the NBA) and their first opponent is the Dallas Mavericks. The game still counts as a regular season game so the Nuggets also will be looking to bounce back after taking their first loss of the regular season on Wednesday. The Mavericks meanwhile are still undefeated at 4-0. Led by their star Luka Doncic, the Mavs are averaging over 122 points a game. The Mavericks other star, Kyrie Irving, is battling a foot injury but it doesn’t seem to have slowed Dallas down. To be fair, it’s not been a particularly difficult slate of opponents thus far for Dallas and Denver is definitely the toughest opponent they’ve faced. In addition to their star duo, Dallas added forward Grant Williams in the offseason and continue to get big performances from Tim Hardaway Jr. off the bench. Their roster is definitely top heavy when it comes to talent, but it’s been more than enough thus far this season.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (4-1) vs Dallas Mavericks (4-0)

When: 8:00 PM MDT

Where: The Can. Denver, CO.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. Altitude TV where available (Altitude TV is available on DirecTV, DirecTV Stream and Fubo TV). ESPN. NBA League Pass for non-Nuggets market viewers. Altitude Radio 92.5 FM. Tell Ball security that you are the NBA cup court designer here to do some last minute touch up on the court (this strategy will work better if you show up covered in blue paint like you just came from a Smurf massacre).

Rival Blog: Mavs Moneyball

The Matchup

Injury report: Christian Braun – probable (shin), Nikola Jokic – probable (back), Jamal Murray – probable (quad), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Kyrie Irving – questionable (foot), Maxi Kleber – questionable (toe), Greg Brown III – out (G-League), Dennis Dexter – out (G-League), A.J. Lawson – out (G-League).

The Three Things

Key Matchup: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope vs Luka Doncic

Nov 18, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) battle for the loose ball during the second quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt about it, the Mavs go as Doncic goes. Thus far this season Luka has been on an absolute mission. He’s averaging 33.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.8 assists a game and though we’re only about a week in, has to be considered the current front runner for MVP. Outside of Luka though, the Mavs get pretty thin in terms of guys they can rely on night in and night out. That gets even thinner if Irving doesn’t play. Quite simply, stop Luka, which is easier said than done, and the Nuggets will have a very good chance to win this game. Caldwell-Pope has been fantastic on defense this year with Anthony Edwards being the first guy he’s matched up with to score over 20 points in the game. It’ll take a herculean effort from Kenny Pope to keep Doncic in check but if anyone on the Nuggets roster is capable of doing it, it’s him.

The thing to remember: winning the NBA Cup is a half million purse per player

I know there’s not a lot of belief that any of the players will care about winning the NBA Cup (more on that later today) but the fact still remains that each player on the winning team will receive a cool half million in cash for winning. Now, when you’re Nikola Jokic and you make a bajillion dollars a year it may not matter too much but a half million is still a half million and even Jokic can use that money to buy a new horse. Tonight marks the first step these players can take to win that bread. On top of that, the game still counts towards the Nuggets and Mavs regular season record. Given the quality of teams, the fact that it’s on national TV, the stakes and all the hubbub around the Cup, I expect an almost playoff like atmosphere tonight which will be fun to watch.

The thing to bet: Luka Doncic alternate points under 30.5 (+115)

Kenny Pope knows what makes the Mavs go and he’ll be ready for it. Luka is going to score, there’s no doubt about it, but he’s going to get hounded by one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league tonight. Last season Doncic topped the 30 point mark against Pope twice, while KCP held him in check the other two games. If Kyrie is back tonight he will take some scoring away from Luka in theory but ultimately I like Pope’s chances regardless. You’ll have to take the alternate line over at Draft Kings to get plus money on a Luka over/under, but only have to drop two points off of the standard 32.5 line to get there.