Preview: Denver Nuggets take on Luka Dončić-led Dallas Mavericks in primetime matchup

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets (3-4) are riding their first win streak of the season and hope to extend it to three games when they host the Mavericks (3-4) at Ball Arena.
 
Dallas has been a tough team to figure out in the early part of the season. It dominated the Clippers on Dec. 27 with a 124-73 rout but has also dropped games against teams who aren’t expected to make the playoffs in the Hornets and Bulls. Still, the Mavs’ net rating of 2.0 (ninth in the league) suggests the team is better than its record indicates.
 
This wraps up a two-game homestand for Denver before the team travels east for a three-game road trip to face the Sixers, Knicks, and Nets.
 
TUNE IN: 8 p.m. MT, TNT
 
Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
 
INJURY REPORT:
 
QUESTIONABLE:
Michael Porter Jr – Health and safety protocols
 
OUT:
 
Greg Whittington – Left Knee Sprain
 
Here are the storylines to watch for:
 
Key Matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Luka Dončić
 
Let’s be honest, there won’t be a single player on the Nuggets who will be tasked with exclusively guarding Luka Dončić, one of the expected MVP candidates this season.
 
Dončić, 21, has picked up where he left off last season and is averaging almost nearly a triple-double this campaign with 25.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. There has been some concern over his dip in long-range shooting, with the Slovenian converting at just 19.5 percent after being a career 31.7 percent shooter on threes. Part of that is down to options. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a knee injury at the start of the season, defenses have honed in Dončić. When Porzingis returns, it should open up things for his star teammate.
 
Jamal Murray is averaging career bests in points (22.2), field goal percentage (48.9), and three-point shooting (39.0). As encouraging as the 23-year-old’s start has been, it still feels like he has another gear to reach and that speaks to the dazzling performances he showed in last season’s playoffs.
 
One area the Nuggets coaching staff has to be thrilled with is his improvement in getting to the line. Murray is averaging 5.7 attempts per game, which is a dramatic tick up from his career average of 2.7. Murray will likely have a few possessions lined up against Dončić and it will be interesting to see how two of the NBA’s brightest young stars handle going head to head.

Be careful with the rock
 
Dallas is one of the better teams on defense in the league, ranking 10th in defensive rating (106.1). This is a team that excels in guarding the three-point line, holding teams to 32.5 percent shooting (fourth), and forcing turnovers at 16.9 opponent turnovers a game (seventh).
 
The Nuggets, who have had their issues with giveaways in the early part of the season, will need to be cautious and look to attack the rim. Dallas is last in the league in opponent field-goal percentage from attempts less than five feet away from the basket, allowing teams to shoot 68.4 percent from that range. This is a game where the low-post savvy of Nikola Jokić along with penetration from players such as Murray, Will Barton III, and Facundo Campazzo could make a difference.
 
Own the battle of the reserves
 
After struggling in the early part of the season, the Nuggets bench has stepped up and it is a big reason why the team is coming off back-to-back wins. In the last two games, Denver’s reserves are fifth in the NBA in plus/minus at 4.5. JaMychal Green and Campazzo have sparked the group’s turnaround.
 
Green was out for the Nuggets’ first four games, but he’s been an immediate contributor since making his debut against the Suns last week. The reserve forward is averaging 13 points, five boards while shooting a sizzling 61.5 percent from behind the arc. Green’s efficiency and hustle on defense have been a game-changer for Malone.
 
Equally as important has been the rise of confidence from Campazzo. The Argentine guard is averaging 13 points, two assists and 1.5 steals in his last two outings while shooting 50 percent from downtown. That’s a big leap forward from his first five games, where he was putting up 1.6 points and one assist. Campazzo is also a former teammate of Dončić at Real Madrid and he might be part of the mix in defending the Mavs star.
 
“My relationship with him is great, we are friends,” Campazzo said of the Mavs star. “He’s a special kid, special player and plays like he’s played 20 years in the league. His IQ is awesome.” 
 
It would also be remiss to not mention the contributions of Monte Morris, one of the best backup point guards in the NBA, and PJ Dozier, who has made key contributions on the defensive end.
 
Depth could be a key advantage for the Nuggets Thursday. Dallas’ bench is currently seventh in the league in plus/minus at 1.6 but has struggled recently in the past three games. The group is 25th in plus/minus (-4.1) and has had issues with turnovers, averaging 6.1 per game during that span. It will be critical for the Nuggets’ reserves to win the battle against their counterparts if they want to help the team secure a win Thursday.

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