2. Denver Nuggets
The incumbent NBA champion Denver Nuggets are defending their title valiantly, as they’ve surged to 10-4 at the start of the year. The Mavericks matched up against the Nuggets in their first game of the NBA’s new in-season tournament on November 3.
Dallas lost 125-114 in that game and was picked apart by the passing ability of Nikola Jokic. Jokic was too big for Dereck Lively II down low and was able to single-handedly dominate the glass against Dallas. Dallas will have to do a better job at applying pressure from multiple defenders to derail some of Jokic’s passes, but personnel-wise the Mavericks don’t stack up the best because of their lack of positional size on the wing.
Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. put a lot of pressure on defenses because of their ability to cut and space the floor respectively. On the other side of the ball, they’ve formed a tantalizing trio on defense with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. As we saw in Denver’s first battle against Dallas, Jamal Murray was able to draw mismatches in the pick and roll to which he could attack at or dish to Jokic.
Jokic then would make the right read to find one of Denver’s dynamic wings for an open three-point shot or layup. Denver’s positional size goes across the board, as the shortest player in their starting lineup is 6-foot-4 in Murray.
Denver lost a little depth in their rotation this past offseason, but second-year players Peyton Watson and Christian Braun have stepped up as extremely versatile role players off the bench. Denver doesn’t have any weaknesses across the board barring their depth at the back end, so Dallas would assuredly need to make some roster moves to be able to compete with them in a playoff series barring something spectacular.