There’s no such thing as a “trap week” in this year’s Western Conference, but if there were such a thing this stretch of games could definitely qualify. After coming back last night in Sacramento for a thrilling win, Dallas will play in Denver tonight. The Nuggets might be 17-20 and in 11th place in the West, but their 11-8 home record is evidence enough that the Mavs have their work cut out for them tonight, especially after playing an overtime game last night.
The Mavs will be without Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki tonight. Rondo has a sore left Achilles tendon though the Mavs don’t consider it serious. Chandler hurt his ankle last night but was able to play though it. He and Nowitzki are sitting out as a precaution after playing extended minutes in Sacramento.
One thing in the Mavs’ favor, however: The Nuggets aren’t a back-to-back terror this season the way they’ve been in years past. Denver has been astonishingly good against teams playing their second game in two nights at the Pepsi Center for most of the past decade. However, this season their dominance has subsided to a degree. Portland and Toronto have both snagged road wins after playing the night before, which creates a certain amount of hope in the Dallas locker room that, yes, this team can be beaten in such extreme conditions.
The last thing Dallas wants to do is end this road trip on a loss, especially considering the Nuggets will follow them back to Dallas for Friday’s back end of a home-and-home. It’s tough to beat a team twice in three days, but it’s impossible to do so if you don’t win the first one to begin with.
|Mavs Offense||Nuggets Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||111.2 (1)||104.4 (21)|
|eFG%||52.9 (3)||49.2 (T-11)|
|TOV%||12.4 (2)||13.3 (24)|
|Off/Def Reb%||24.7 (19)||75.8 (T-9)|
|FT/FGA||.261 (22)||.319 (30)|
The Nuggets are a very good rebounding team on both sides of the ball, anchored most notably by big man Kenneth “Manimal” Faried, one of the most fearsome rebounders in the league. Per NBA.com, Faried grabs 18 percent of all available rebounds while he’s on the court, a very, very good number for a guy who plays 26.7 minutes per game, basically exclusively at the power forward spot.
However, the Nuggets’ bright spot in the middle, Jusuf Nurkic, is even better on the boards, claiming 19.5 percent of available rebounds. He’s earned the starting nod since Denver dealt Timofey Mozgov to Cleveland for two first-round draft picks. The rookie has the potential to be one of the league’s better centers and is already blocking 1.3 shots in just 14.1 minutes per game.
One matchup to watch while the Mavs have the ball is Monta Ellis vs. Arron Afflalo. Denver’s 2-guard stands 6′ 5″ and the Nuggets defense performs better defensively when he’s on the floor than any other active guard on the team with the exception of rookie Gary Harris, who plays sparingly. Afflalo is known more for his offensive abilities than his defensive prowess, but he’s still good enough defensively to potentially bother Ellis, especially when playing in front of Nurkic in a pick-and-roll situation. Denver allows just 94.8 points per 100 possessions when Nurkic plays, per NBA.com, the best mark on the team.
Usual starting forward Wilson Chandler is questionable for tonight’s contest with a right knee strain he suffered earlier this month. He’d be the man who would normally check Chandler Parsons. Without him, Denver would start Darrell Arthur, who’s not as long and quick as Chandler on the perimeter. Parsons would presumably have the edge in that matchup.
|Mavs Defense||Nuggets Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||103.6 (18)||102.5 (T-18)|
|eFG%||50.5 (T-20)||48.2 (23)|
|TOV%||16.8 (4)||14.7 (12)|
|Off/Def Reb%||72.0 (29)||27.8 (5)|
|FT/FGA||.272 (13)||.297 (T-9)|
So much of Denver’s offense flows through Ty Lawson. The starting point guard is absolutely electric and is one of few guards in the league to average a double-double. One weakness, however: He’s struggling with his three-point shot this season, hitting a career-low 33.9 percent behind the arc. If Rajon Rondo can stay in front of the smaller Lawson and keep him on the perimeter, Dallas will have a great chance at winning. Easier said than done, however: Lawson is second in the league with 12.2 drives per game and Denver scores 13.5 points off of his drives, second-most in the league. This could be the night when Rondo’s ridiculous 6′ 9″ wingspan is put to the test the most.
Injuries in general have limited Denver’s three-point shooting. Without Randy Foye, out indefinitely, and potentially Chandler, Denver would be short two of its top three long-range shooters. Alonzo Gee would be the only active Nugget who’s hitting above 35 percent from deep. As a whole, Denver ranks just 26th in the NBA in three-point percentage, though they do rank 17th in home three-point percentage. Dallas, meanwhile, ranks 21st in opponent three-point shooting in road games, allowing 36.0 percent of 3PA to fall in away from home.
Nurkic has been excellent in the middle since taking over the starting spot, averaging 12.0 points per game on 55 percent shooting in the two contests. However, his playing time has been limited because of foul trouble — he’s committed 4.5 fouls per in the last two contests, holding him to just 21.9 minutes per game. Considering how well the defense has performed with him on the floor, I’d be surprised not to see Ellis, Rondo, Devin Harris, and JJ Barea go right at him when he’s on the floor in hopes of drawing a foul.
This game does fall on an interesting date. Denver just traded for former Maverick Jameer Nelson, who’s now on his third team this season. Nate Robinson, formerly the club’s primary combo guard off the bench, was sent to Boston in return. It’s unclear if Nelson will be active for tonight’s game, and, even if he is, I’m not sure he would play. That might mean extended playing time for Gary Harris and perhaps heavy minutes for Lawson, who already plays 37.1 minutes per. It’s always interesting to see how teams respond immediately after a trade, although the Robinson-for-Nelson swap is far from the foundation-shaking trade that sent Nelson to Boston to begin with.
Dallas has struggled with Denver in recent years, but the Nuggets are perhaps more vulnerable now than they’ve been in the last couple seasons when it comes to these two teams meeting. The Mavs are obviously going to be a little tired, but they must push through all of that mental and physical fatigue to grab another win. That’s what championship teams do.