Preview: Denver Nuggets hope to go 4-0 when they host Dallas Mavericks Tuesday
The Nuggets (3-0) were the NBA’s best team on the second night of back-to-backs last season, a trend they hope will continue when they face the Dallas Mavericks (2-1) in their first back-to-back of the 2019-20 campaign.
Denver was 12-1 on the second night of consecutive games and hosts a team it swept last season. However, Dallas has shown the potential of being a vastly-improved group this season thanks to Kristaps Porzingis finally seeing some action for the team after a midseason trade last campaign. It also doesn’t hurt to have 2019 Rookie of the Year in Luka Dončić. The Mavericks come into the matchup as the 10th best scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 116.7 points per game.
Denver is fresh off another gritty performance, sealing a 101-94 victory against the Kings in Sacramento Monday. The team’s offense hasn’t yet reached the levels of last season, but its defense certainly has a case for being one of the NBA’s best. Michael Malone, a defensive-minded head coach, has to be ecstatic to see his team third in the league in blocked shots (7.0 per game), fourth in opponent scoring (100.3), top five in both opponent field goal (40.2) and three-point percentage (29.0) and eighth in defensive rating (100.3).
It should be an exciting battle between offense and defense at the Pepsi Center Tuesday (7 p.m. MT, TV: Altitude, RADIO: KKSE 92.5FM/950AM).
Projected Nuggets starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
Here are three storylines to watch for:
Containing Dončić and Porzingis
The Mavs gamble in trading for a still-recovering Porzingis last season appears to be paying off this campaign with Dallas now possessing a potent inside-out duo.
Dončić is picking up where he left off last season. In the Mavs opening three games of the season, the Slovenian is averaging a stellar 29.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals. That’s a sizable jump from his first season in the league where he averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
The 6-foot-8 Dončić typically starts at point guard but will shift through positions one to three in games, creating mismatches for opposing defenses. Jalen Brunson and Delon Wright often take on the defensive responsibilities of guarding point and shooting guards. For the Nuggets to contain the sophomore guard, utilizing a combination of different looks against him – ranging from Gary Harris to Torrey Craig – could be beneficial. Last season, Dončić averaged a double-double against Denver, going for 23.5 points and 10.5 assists, but shot 39.5 in two losses.
The Nuggets have a new challenge to deal with in Porzingis. The former Knicks star was shut down last season due to injury, but he’s had success against Denver in the past. In the 2017-18 season, the Latvian big man was dominant as the Knicks and Nuggets split the season series. Porzingis averaged 29.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while shooting 50 percent in that series.
Porzingis is menacing due to his great athleticism at 7-foot-3 and the ability to hit threes. He’s also a superb finisher around the basket and can block shots, per game for his career. He comes into Tuesday’s game averaging 26.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.7 blocks and the Nuggets might need to use a combination of Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee to slow him down.
Improving the offense
The Nuggets have been edging opponents thanks to their improvement on the defensive end, but sooner or later they’ll need their offense to get going if they want to be a contender this season.
The Nuggets are currently 21st in the NBA in scoring, averaging 105.7 points per game. Their struggles of finishing at the rim have been concerning as they are 30th in the NBA at converting field goals on drives at 34.3 percent. Considering it was also a problem during the semifinals of the 2019 playoffs, as the team shot 41 percent, finding ways to better execute around the rim will likely be a priority for Malone and his coaching staff.
Part of it could be down to Denver taking a step back on assists. Last season, the team was second in the league, averaging 27.4 dimes a game. This campaign, the Nuggets are 21st in that category, dishing out 21.3 per game. Better ball movement could mean more efficient looks around the rim and drives.
On a positive note, Denver has shown a lot of growth in three point shooting this season – an area Malone emphasized throughout training camp. The team is eighth in three point percentage, shooting 36.8 percent.
Can Millsap continue his dominance vs. Mavericks?
Millsap hasn’t gotten in rhythm yet this season, averaging 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds on 42.9 percent shooting, but that could change quickly when the Mavs visit the Pepsi Center.
Millsap had a lot of success against Dallas, dominating in two of the three games during the season series (he missed one due to injury). He averaged 25 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 60.6 percent against the Mavericks last season. It’s a perfect opportunity for one of the Nuggets’ core players to get going.