(Boulder-CO) Next up for the Nuggets during this seven-game home stand are the Dallas Mavericks. Denver is 2-0 so far this year against the Mavs, but this time they will be without Carmelo Anthony, or roughly a quarter of their offensive output in the first two games against Dallas. However, the good news is the Nuggets will not have to face Josh Howard this go around again after he missed the first two match-ups already this season. Howard still being watched on the IL with the injured wrist.
In both of Denver’s victorious meetings over the Mavs this season the Nuggets have received a tremendous effort from their bench. In the first meeting, it was the balanced scoring of J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza combining for 29 points in addition to seven assists from Anthony Carter, and six rebounds from Chris Andersen. The reserves scored 34 out of 108 points for the Nuggets in that match-up and outscored the Dallas second crew 34-29. In the second meeting, it was J.R. Smith’s 25 points that were a huge shot in the arm for the Nuggets, but it was LK and Carters’ six points each that when combined made up a much larger percentage of the 98 points Denver scored when defeating Dallas, 98-88. With that larger portion of the scoring accounted for, the Nugget reserves were able to outscore the Dallas second crew, 37-32, in that match-up, but the Mavericks shooting 34% from the field played more of a role than anything else in the Denver win.
Changing gears, the one area that has me concerned against the Mavericks this time around is rebounding. The Mavericks are the second best rebounding team in the NBA with an average nightly mark of 44.2 rebounds per game. In both meetings between these two teams Dallas was able to win the battle of the boards while enjoying a 30-19 advantage on the offensive glass when totals are combined from both games. Without Carmelo Anthony, Denver’s second best rebounder by average in those two contests with a mark of eight rebounds per game, the Nuggets are going to need gigantic efforts from Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen on the glass. Combined, those three have made up an average of 21.5 rebounds in the first two meetings in comparison to 25.5 rebounds combined between Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Dampier, and Jason Kidd.
The next area that has me a bit concerned is the Denver offense. Coming off a twelve-assist showing against the Pistons that I would compare to dangling a sharpened pencil above my eye and dropping it once or twice, the Nuggets need to have a night distributing the ball like they did against the Mavericks in their second meeting and not the first. In the first meeting, Denver handed out just 19 assists on 34 made baskets and their shooting percentage suffered as a team finishing at 38.6%. In the second meeting, Denver was much more generous with the basketball handing out 22 assists on 36 made baskets, which at first glance doesn’t seem like a big difference, but when you consider the Nuggets won by scoring ten fewer points it really is. Their shooting percentage in the second meeting was a far more favorable 46.2% while taking ten fewer shot attempt as well.
Another underlying plot to this ongoing story is rooted around the free-throw line. In Denver back in November, the Nuggets shot 40 free-throws in comparison to just 16 shot by the Mavericks. Denver made 37 of those 40 attempts in that game and the large discrepancy at the charity stripe helped Denver stave off the Mavs when the game became tightly contested in the final minutes of regulation. Denver’s last eight points coming by way of free-throws were enough for Denver edge the Mavericks on that night, but in the second meeting in Dallas the Mavericks shot more free-throws than the Nuggets did. In the second game it wasn’t a pivotal point because it was the stingy defense of Denver in the fourth quarter that allowed Dallas just 17 points that proved to be the difference maker. However, with Carmelo making up almost a third of the Nuggets combined free-throw attempts in those two games, the Nuggets will need to be aggressive around the rim to try and make up for those attempts in his absence because although Dallas doesn’t shoot many free-throws on a nightly basis. They do however shoot the third highest percentage in the NBA at the line and could easily turn the tables on the Nuggets in this regard if Denver doesn’t make an attempt to get to the line early and often.
I’m expecting the Mavericks to give Denver their best shot as it is very difficult to beat another group of professionals three straight times. Making things even tougher for the Nuggets is how Dallas has lost their last two games and are just 3-3 since starting 2009 with a 19-12 record overall making them a wounded animal on the brink of quite possibly missing the playoffs due to right now being fourth in their division and currently on the outside looking in if the post season were to start today.
With that being said, you can’t keep J.R. Smith or the Nuggets down for long and the Prodigy is coming off a dreadful 3-13 shooting performance against the Pistons last Friday. His performance - good or bad - will be pivotal with ‘Melo out, as he is now the Nuggets' leading scorer against the Mavs this year with an average of 20ppg on better than 50% shooting. So, I leave you with a video of J.R. Smith making the extremely difficult look rather routine.
It’s time to tame the Mavericks.