The Denver Nuggets kick off a crucial early-season six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks tonight. Denver is 10-2 at home but a woeful 3-7 on the road, and this game is the most favorable one on the trip. The Mavericks have won only six games all year, but after Denver has survived their first two games since star Nikola Jokic’s injury thanks to some heroic guard play they’ll need some more of that to start the next six games off on the right foot.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (13-9) at Dallas Mavericks (6-17)

When: 6:30 pm MST

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas TX

How to Watch: Altitude

Rival Blog: Mavs Moneyball

Injury Report

Nikola Jokic (ankle that wounds Denver’s psyche like Achilles taking an arrow to the lower leg) – out, Paul Millsap (wrist injury that turns Denver’s defense into a nightly scramble for either respect or madness) – out, Wilson Chandler (trick back that’s creaking like an old screen door) – questionable, Mason Plumlee (abs of less than steel) – probable, Josh McRoberts (arrow to the knee) – out, Seth Curry (lower extremity a la hockey reporting) – out, Nerlens Noel (hitchhiker’s thumb) – questionable

***Update: Chandler is a go***

Three Things to Watch

Can Denver keep up its guard play? Will Barton carried Denver on his shoulders against the Chicago Bulls in that narrow victory, and Jamal Murray went off against the Los Angeles Lakers with Barton again providing closing power with 16 points in the final quarter. Denver doesn’t have the front-court scoring or passing that its offense is built around, so its backcourt has to keep up that torrid pace for the Nuggets to keep winning.

Can Dallas keep up its outside shooting? Burying 16 three-pointers helped Dallas blow out the triage unit known as the Clippers, and on the season they are second in the league in three-point attempts. They will bomb from deep even if their percentage is middle-of-the-pack, and Denver gives up the sixth-highest percentage from beyond the arc. If Denver can’t defend the three-point line it will be a long and stressful night.

Will Denver show up in the first quarter? The line between bench players and starters is blurred right now with Denver having three injured starters, but the disconnect in contribution levels remains high. Barton is carrying the bench unit with some occasional help from Mudiay, and if either is off when the starters need a rest in the opening quarter, bad things befall Denver. This would be a great game for both units to come out hot, and for someone like Juancho Hernangomez or Trey Lyles to make shots. Letting the Mavericks hang around is recipe for disaster, and its a recipe Denver has cooked up on the road all too often this year.

Prediction: Nuggets pull one out on the road 109-105 and get some good feelings before the meat of the road trip really starts. Also, expect to hear about this Nerlens Noel hotdog thing throughout the broadcast, especially if you happen to be on the Dallas feed.