Preview: Denver Nuggets wrap up lengthy road trip at rising Dallas Mavericks

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Ten days, five cities, five games. That’s how hectic the Nuggets’ longest road trip, which started on Dec. 30, has been for Michael Malone’s team. It thankfully concludes against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night. 

Denver (25-11) is 2-2 on the trip and is aiming to end it with an above .500 record against Dallas (23-13). In Denver’s last game against the Hawks, the team rode off a career-night from Nikola Jokić and a strong showing from Will Barton III to even the season series. The Nuggets will be looking for more of the same against the Mavericks. 

Dallas has cooled off after a strong start to the season, going 5-5 in its last 10 games. Still, the team remains one of the NBA’s biggest surprises as it sits sixth in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs last season. Rick Carlisle’s group is just two games behind Denver in the Western Conference standings as of Tuesday night. The Mavericks are coming off a close win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday, thanks to a 21-point third quarter from star Luka Dončić. 

This is the second of four meetings between the teams. Dallas captured a 109-106 victory at Pepsi Center on Oct. 29. Last season, Denver swept the season series 3-0. 

 

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić

Injury update: Will Barton III OUT (Personal reasons)

TUNE IN: 5:30 p.m. ET, TV: ESPN, ALTITUDE, RADIO: KKSE 92.5FM

Here are the storylines to watch for: 

Containing Luka 

Dončić was last season’s Rookie of the Year and he could be named MVP when this year’s postseason awards are announced. The 20-year-old has nine 30-point triple-doubles, more than the rest of the NBA combined, and has been absolutely dominant in his sophomore campaign. Dončić is averaging 29.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.9 assists. 

Dončić’s ability to swing between three positions, point guard, shooting guard and small forward, makes him a nightmare for opposing offenses. In his last five games, Dončić is averaging 32.4 points, 10 rebounds and 8.2 assists on 46.2 percent shooting. 

Despite Dončić’s recent tear, the Nuggets can take confidence in knowing they are one of two teams to hold the Slovenian to under 35 percent shooting. The Clippers, third in the league in defensive rating, were the other team. The Nuggets might have lost the October matchup between the teams, but they showed how to effectively slow down Dončić – force him to shoot outside. The Mavericks star, who is connecting on 33.1 percent of his attempts from downtown, took 12 shots in the contest and only hit three, including 1 of 6 from 3-point range . With center Kristaps Porziņģis, who averages 17.3 points and 9.4 rebounds, sidelined with a knee injury since Dec. 31, it gives Denver a chance to throw a variety of coverages at Dončić. 

Joker’s strong run 

Speaking of MVP candidates, Jokić is certainly playing his way into the conversation over the past month and half. Since Dec. 3, the 24-year-old is averaging 21.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and shooting 54.3 percent and an impressive 38.7 percent from three. 

Jokić’s career-high 47-point outburst against the Hawks was encouraging for several reasons. The center’s greatest trait, his unselfishness, has come under the microscope this season after an All-NBA First Team award last campaign. With the Nuggets dropping two of their last three games prior to their game against the Hawks, Jokić’s assertiveness set the tone early and inspired his teammates. His playmaking remains his greatest asset, but considering his ability to score from almost anywhere, it was a welcome sight to see a truly dominant scoring game from him. 

Jokić had a triple-double in the last contest between these two teams, going for 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. As difficult as it might be to imagine, his recent stretch suggests he’ll have an even bigger outing on Wednesday

Millsap’s favorite opposition?

There is something about Dallas when it comes to Paul Millsap, a team he’s consistently dominated since joining Denver in 2017. In Millsap’s four games against the Mavericks as a Nugget, he’s averaging 21.3 points, 8.8 rebounds on 49.9 percent shooting. Denver could use more of the same in Dallas.

Millsap led the Nuggets in true shooting percentage in the first quarter of the season at 61.4 percent but is struggling recently. Over his last 10 games, Millsap is averaging 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and shooting 32.4 percent. An injury could be a part of the forward’s recent dip, as he has been recovering from a leg ailment he suffered against the Pelicans on Christmas Day. He is listed as probable against the Mavericks. Feeding Millsap early, as the Nuggets did when he was on his hot stretch, could be a difference-maker.

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