Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks travel out west to take on Nikola Jokic and the surging Denver Nuggets.
Dallas limps into Thursday’s affair trying to halt the bleeding from a six-game losing streak. In a free-fall since the trade deadline, the Mavericks have lost 11 of their last 12 games. Doncic’s regression combined with the team’s philosophical shift to prioritizing player development has led to deteriorating play. His knee injury was clearly a factor on Tuesday, as he went 5-of-18 from the field with nine turnovers. The Mavericks are 15-24 when playing on one day’s rest and 6-27 on the road.
Denver bounced back from an ugly loss to Golden State with a 133-107 victory over Minnesota. After getting called out by Mike Malone, the Nuggets responded by playing with more intensity. In Tuesday’s win over the Timberwolves, they recorded 40 assists in a game for the first time since April of 2013. With a fully healthy roster, the Nuggets are primed to continue their pursuit of the Western Conference’s top seed. Denver will play this game at home (28-6) and on one day’s rest (25-18).
Denver is healthier, has performed better on one day’s rest, and is far more motivated to win tonight.
Dallas has based its offense around Doncic, who has been granted carte blanche as the team’s primary ball-handler with shooters and roll men surrounding him. Subsequently, the Mavericks have predicated their offensive attack on three-point shots and free throws.
Dallas is second in percentage of field goals attempted from three-pointers (41.8), third in three-pointers attempted per game (35.9), and seventh in threes made per game (12.2). However, the Mavericks have not been the most efficient shooting team. Dallas ranks 27th in three-point percentage (34.1) and 20th in effective field-goal percentage (51.7).
They have had no issues generating offense from the free-throw line. Doncic leads the team’s charge to the charity stripe, ranking 11th in the NBA with 6.6 free-throws attempted per game. Dallas ranks third in percentage of points from free throws (17.7) and fifth in free throws made per game (19.1).
Similar to other young teams, the Mavericks struggle defensively. Most of the team’s rotation is still learning how to play NBA defense. Dirk Nowitzki, receiving 13.2 minutes a night, isn’t helping their cause either. Dallas has the 19th-worst defensive rating (109.7) in the league. The Mavericks struggle to defend in transition (28th in opposing points off fast breaks) and in the mid-range (19th in field-goal percentage).
Denver is an offensive juggernaut. Led by generational passing big man Jokic, the Nuggets are one of the league’s most unselfish teams. The ball is constantly whipping around on offense, as players will often pass up a good shot for a great one. Denver ranks third in assist percentage (65.5), second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.03), and second in assists per game (27.8). Thus, the Nuggets rank fourth in the league with a 113.1 offensive rating.
Denver’s precise ball movement has led to efficient shots near the basket. The Nuggets are third in percentage of points in the paint per game (47.1), fourth in points in the paint per game (52.9), and ninth in effective field-goal percentage (53.1). Denver has also exhibited its dominance in the paint through rebounding. The Nuggets are fifth in defensive rebounding percentage (74.7) and first in offensive rebounding percentage (31.7). Their success on the offensive boards has led to them leading the league in second-chance points per game (15.7).
Defensively, the Nuggets have made huge strides this season. Denver is currently 11th in defensive rating (108.0) and seventh in opposing points per game (107.3). The Nuggets’ most notable defensive improvement has come on the perimeter. They’re sixth in opposing three-point percentage (34.3) and 12th in three-pointers allowed per game (12.1). Denver has also exhibited defensive growth through its ability to defend without fouling. The Nuggets rank ninth in opponent free throws made per game (16.9) and seventh in personal fouls per game (20.3).
Even though Dallas has fared well defending the paint, Denver still presents multiple mismatches.
The Nuggets excel in defending the Mavericks’ two main points of attack. Denver’s stingy three-point defense will prevent Dallas from getting into a groove from beyond the arc. The Mavericks will also struggle to get their desired production from the free-throw line against a Denver team that defends at a high level without fouling.
Denver’s efficient ball movement will be a nightmare for Dallas to guard. Young teams like the Mavericks have trouble against teams who can effectively move the ball from side to side and shift the defense. The Mavericks do not possess the necessary defensive communication to defend this type of action.
The opening line for this game was -10 Denver. Thus far, the Nuggets have received 76 percent of the public betting action placed on the spread, and the line has moved to -11. This early movement is a sign that both the public and sharp bettors are initially backing the Nuggets. Denver has had recent success against the spread at home, going 9-3 ATS in its last 12 home games. Conversely, Dallas has struggled, going 1-5 ATS in its last six road games.
Recent home success against the spread matched up against Dallas’ ATS struggles gives Denver the advantage. It also doesn’t hurt that the sharp bettors have initially sided with the Nuggets.
Through their ball movement, the Nuggets will pick apart the inexperienced Mavericks defense. Dallas will struggle to score through three-pointers and free throws against a Denver defense that is proficient in stopping that type of offense. The Mavericks’ offense runs through Doncic and lacks alternative playmakers to pick up the slack. In sum, Denver is far more interested than Dallas in winning games at this point. Pound the Nuggets -11 as they dispatch the faltering Mavericks with ease.