What to Watch for in the Nuggets Road Game at Dallas

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

DALLAS – The Dallas Mavericks have the worst record in the Western Conference, yet the team the Nuggets will see tonight at American Airlines Center is very different from what their 6-17 record implies.

Since Nov. 18, Dallas has posted a 4-3 record and looks much more potent on offense. They’ve averaged 103.6 points on 45.9 percent from the field. And from the 3-point line, the Mavericks have been as deadly as any team, making 12.7 treys per game and shooting 39 percent from the arc in that span.

Translation: It is a tougher task to start off the Nuggets six-game road trip than it initially appears to be.

Asked what concerns him the most, Nuggets coach Michael Malone didn’t hesitate.

“Their shooting,” he said. “They are capable of going on big runs because of their 3-point shooting. I remember right before we made our lineup change last year, we came in here and got our doors blown off, and the 3-point line was a big part of that game as well.”

So how do the Nuggets slow Dallas down from the arc?

“It starts with your ability to guard the basketball,” Malone said. “They get threes because J.J. Barea, Dennis Smith, Devin Harris, live in the paint. They get into the paint to collapse to kick out for threes. So, for us to guard the 3-point line, we have to take ownership of containing the basketball one-on-one.”

Here are some things the Nuggets can do tonight to give themselves a solid chance of winning.

Stay at home on shooters: Much like the Utah Jazz, the Mavericks get into the paint chiefly to kick out to open shooters. And this is one of the NBA’s best spot-up shooting basketball teams, averaging 1.072 points per possession in spot-up actions. From Wesley Matthews to Dirk Nowitzki to J.J. Barea to Harrison Barnes, there are a number of players that can knock down a shot. Yet, this isn’t a good points-in-the-paint team. So, staying home on shooters and making a litany of small guards try and finish at the rim would give the Nuggets a good chance at having consistent solid defensive possessions.

Figure out the zone: No NBA team plays more zone defense than the Dallas Mavericks. And they’ll break it out when times are tough. So, if the Nuggets are hitting a large number of 3-pointers, or if they go on a scoring run, etc., the Mavericks will switch to zone to throw things off. The key for the Nuggets is to recognize the zone, but not be deterred from continuing to run their offense as usual. Because there is a defensive three-second rule, zone in the pros is a lot different than zone in college. It basically means offenses can run their normal sets. If the Nuggets recognize the zone but play through it, they should be fine.

Stay down on the shot fake: It seems like such a simple rule, yet it is more important tonight more than against any other team. The Mavericks utilize shot fakes a ton as part of how they work to get players open. So, the Nuggets have to be careful on closeouts not to jump at the fake. If they do, the Mavericks player gets into the lane, collapses the defense and kicks out to an open shooter; or he quickly relocates and knocks down an open jump shot. Either way, the defense is put in a tough spot. Proper closeouts tonight are a must.

INJURY REPORT: Nikola Jokić (ankle) and Paul Millsap (wrist) are out of the game. Wilson Chandler (back) is probable to play.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.