The Denver Nuggets are back to being exciting again for two games.

After putting up 132 points against the Portland Trailblazers in a wire to wire victory, the Nuggets followed it up against former Denver star Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks, posting 127 points in another game that they never trailed in. A secret though: neither the Trailblazers nor the Knicks are more than mediocre teams at this point. The Blazers own the worst defense in the NBA, while the Knicks aren’t far behind at fifth worst (according to Putting up points in bunches against those two teams at home isn’t something the Nuggets and their fans should be celebrating just yet…but they are heading in the right direction.

Those performances were the highest and third highest point totals the Nuggets have posted this season to date, and while the defense hasn’t been great in either game, they created enough stops at key points to provide two exciting victories. The starting lineup changes have been a clear catalyst for success, with Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, and Nikola Jokic each playing a part in elevating the games of Emmanuel Mudiay and Danilo Gallinari. Kenneth Faried has also embraced his role coming off the bench as a sixth man, and he appears to be recovering some of the magic of the Manimal.

Now, the Nuggets have an opportunity to put a streak together. Incoming tonight are the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks are a bad team, but that didn’t stop them from embarrassing the Nuggets exactly a week ago. That loss went on to become a catalyst for change with Michael Malone, and he made sweeping changes to the starting lineup and bench rotation that have a major effect on how each game is played. This game will be much different than the contest seven days ago, and I have faith the Nuggets will run to another victory.

The Basics:

Who: Dallas Mavericks (7-20) at Denver Nuggets (11-16)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch: Altitude

Rival Blog: Mavs Moneyball

Position Mavericks Nuggets Advantage
PG Deron Williams Emmanuel Mudiay Mavericks
SG Wesley Matthews Gary Harris Mavericks
SF Dorian Finney-Smith Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Harrison Barnes Wilson Chandler Neutral
C Salah Mejri Nikola Jokic Nuggets
Reserves Seth Curry, Devin Harris, Justin Anderson, Dwight Powell, A.J. Hammons Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Jusuf Nurkic Nuggets

Injury report: Jamal Murray – probable (foot), Dirk Nowitzki – out (achilles), Andrew Bogut – out (knee), J.J. Barea – doubtful (left calf)

Key Matchup: Gary Harris vs Wesley Matthews

Wesley Matthews used last season as a recovery period after surgery on a torn achilles. He wasn’t playing well early but has exploded of late. He’s scored in double figures in 10 of the last 11 games, and he’s put up 25 points or more in five of them. It’s no secret that his emergence has made the Mavericks more consistent as a team, as Harrison Barnes was the only trusted scorer until that point. Last time he faced the Nuggets, he put up 25 points on 14 shots. The Nuggets didn’t have Gary Harris for that game though, and Harris has made a huge impact for this Nuggets team. Look for Denver to put Harris on Matthews to try and neutralize his impact, while forcing Matthews to chase Harris around the court.

Key Question #1: Will Nikola Jokic continue accumulating fouls?

It’s no secret anymore that Michael Malone’s goal is to play Nikola Jokic 30 minutes per game from here on out. When Jokic is on the floor, good things are usually happening for the Denver Nuggets. What has tended to happen at this point is that Jokic will commit fouls that send him to the bench early. With his ability to facilitate and generate easy baskets for himself and others, the load has been lightened for the rest of the starting lineup to manufacture offense, especially Emmanuel Mudiay. What many are wondering at this point is what Jokic and the Nuggets offense will look like if he plays 30 minutes or more. To this point, he has put up great numbers in limited minutes. What might those numbers look like if he doesn’t get into foul trouble?

Key Question #2: Will the bench find its stride?

At different points, the bench of the Denver Nuggets has looked like the best bench in basketball. With the recent changes, the group has an entirely different look, usually featuring Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, and one of Kenneth Faried or Jusuf Nurkic. This unit hasn’t yet found its stride, but there’s enough firepower here for it to work. As they continue to build chemistry, this group may begin blowing teams out of the water with their ability to generate turnovers and play fast.

First thought: Michael Malone was out-coached last game

The Nuggets looked hapless last game against Rick Carlisle and the band of misfit Mavericks. That should not happen. The talent difference is just gargantuan. Carlisle was able to will his team to exploit every weakness the Nuggets possessed at the time. It truly was a clinic that Malone could not match. How will this contest fare? Will the starting lineup changes make everything better? Will Malone have to make some in-game adjustments to get the win? I’m very curious to see how this game plays out from a coaching perspective and how Carlisle decides to attack this Nuggets team, but I have faith in Malone and his ability to learn from past mistakes. He’s done so with the starting lineup, and I believe he will do so against the Mavericks Monday night.