New year, same story for the Denver Nuggets.
A shorthanded Mile High squad continued to find ways to win without several key rotation players, which resulted in larger roles for players deep on the bench and even for the coaching staff.
With Popeye Jones serving as acting head coach and the Nuggets relying on players recently signed to 10-Day contracts, Denver cruised to a 124-111 victory over the Houston Rockets, led by Facundo Campazzo (22 points, 12 assists, five steals), and Nikola Jokić (24 points, 11 rebounds).
Now Denver (18-16) looks to sweep a Texas two-step in Dallas Monday night.
The Mavericks have had to navigate an extended period without Luka Dončić, who has dealt with injuries and COVID protocols as of late before being cleared to return Saturday. Dallas has hovered around .500 all season, with a 12th-ranked defense fueling a good amount of their success.
The two teams have split the first two matchups in the season series.
JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT KNEE INJURY RECOVERY. OUT.
MICHAEL PORTER JR. – LUMBAR SPINE SURGERY. OUT.
MONTE MORRIS – HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS. OUT.
MARKUS HOWARD – LEFT KNEE SPRAIN. OUT.
P.J. DOZIER – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.
BONES HYLAND - HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS. OUT.
JEFF GREEN - HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS. OUT.
ZEKE NNAJI – HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS. OUT.
AUSTIN RIVERS – RIGHT THUMB SPRAIN. PROBABLE.
VLATKO CANCAR – NASAL FRACTURE. PROBABLE.
TUNE-IN: 6:30 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM
Who will step up for Denver?
When you’re missing your starting point guard (Monte Morris) and one of your starting forwards (Jeff Green), opportunities are going to arise for others down the pecking order. On Saturday, Campazzo made the most of his opportunity, with flashy playmaking, timely shot-making, and active defense helping to fuel the win.
However, others such as Bol Bol (11 points) and Vlatko Čančar (11) chipped in off the bench in extended run against Houston. There will be playing time available off the bench Monday in Dallas, and even players recently signed such as Rayjon Tucker may find themselves playing 20+ minutes.
In a crucial matchup against another Western Conference playoff contender, the Nuggets will need all the help they can get Monday night.
Defending the 3-point line
Dallas’ offense has been centered around shots outside of the paint to begin the season, with only 26.4 percent of its total shot attempts coming within four feet of the basket. Instead, the Mavericks have been aggressive from downtown, as 39.4 percent of their shot attempts have come from beyond the arc, the eighth-highest frequency in the league.
Unfortunately for Dallas, those shots haven’t been falling at a high rate throughout the first month of the season, as the Mavericks rank 26th in 3-point percentage at 33.1 percent.
Denver has done a good job limiting attempts from downtown this season, and teams have connected on 34.5 percent of their 3-point attempts against the Nuggets so far, a rate slightly below the league average, making this a compelling matchup between the two teams.
There’s no such thing as a perfect performance, and Saturday’s win against Houston falls in that category. Even though Denver led by as many as 31 points at one point, the Mile High squad struggled from deep (31.3 percent) and more importantly, coughed it up 18 times, which led to 16 points for Houston.
Although Dallas’ defense isn’t elite at forcing turnovers, it’s crucial that the Nuggets limit their mistakes because the Mavericks have been very effective at avoiding turnovers on the offensive end. Dallas ranks second in turnover percentage this season, which has helped prop up a struggling offense.