Dallas Mavericks versus Denver Nuggets series preview
While the Nuggets are the Mavericks’ realistically ideal first-round matchup, they won’t roll over either. Denver will be rightfully favored in a seven-game series. After all, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets did what the Mavericks couldn’t do last postseason, which was force a game seven against the LA Clippers and toppled them to advance.
There are encouraging things about this potential matchup that could lead to a Mavericks upset.
While Denver isn’t a bad defensive team, they are not quite as stout as the other top contenders in the West. The Nuggets are giving up 110.4 points per game, worse than the Clippers, Suns, Lakers, and Jazz. With a little scheming, the Mavericks could take advantage of some of Denver’s weaknesses on the defensive end.
Part of why the Nuggets rank in the top ten on defense is that opponents have had relatively cold shooting nights against them. Credit should be given to Denver’s defenders for creating tougher opportunities, limiting good looks inside, and their discipline closing out on shooters. On the other hand, the Nuggets give up the tenth most 3-pointers in the league, but their opponent’s shoot the eighth worse percent from distance against them.
The Mavericks are one of the best teams at creating opportunities from deep, ranking fifth in 3-point attempts per game. They’ve also started to hit them at a much better rate, climbing all the way to 16th in 3-point percentage after ranking in the bottom of the league earlier in the season. If the Mavs can exploit the Nuggets from deep, it’ll be a good start to their upset recipe.
Another reason for optimism is the makeup of Denver’s stars. The Nuggets are not short on star power, rolling out a lineup that features All-NBA center Nikola Jokic, young star guard Jamal Murray, and blossoming prospect Michael Porter Jr. Those players are loaded with offensive talent and craftiness, but they are not overpowering athletically.
The hardest thing to scheme against offensively is athleticism. No matter how smart a game plan may be, there’s no way to outsmart an opponent that is straight stronger, faster, and bigger. Since the Nuggets stars are subpar athletically, there are ways for coach Rick Carlisle to limit their effectiveness, such as sticking longer defenders like Josh Richardson on Jamal Murray, stretching Nikola Jokic out on defense with Kristaps Porzingis, and running Denver’s two stars through myriad pick-and-rolls to wear them out.
While it’s a far cry from a guarantee, especially with new weapon Aaron Gordon in tow, the Nuggets may present the Mavericks with their best chance of a first-round upset. Regardless of the outcome, a seven-game series featuring The Joker and Luka Magic is too good to root against. Hopefully, Dallas can capitalize on their 2-1 record against Denver this season and pull the upset in the first round.
Next: Western Conference Semifinals