Dallas at Denver
Time: 8 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: DEN -3.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Dallas Mavericks are surging. To expect a team chalk full of veterans to simply mail in the season may have been a bit much to begin with. Dallas has won seven of its past 10 and its last four overall to climb to within just two games of No. 8 Denver in the Western Conference playoff chase.
Traveling to face Denver is just what Dallas needs, but the same could be said for the Nuggets, who have been one of the more surprise teams of the 2016-17 season. Denver is 3.5 point favorites, and is currently 13-12 at the Pepsi Center. NBA oddsmakers set the over/under at 214, which is a tough play given Dallas’ propensity to slow it down, and Denver’s tendency to do just the opposite.
Who will control the pace of tonight’s game? Will Emmanuel Mudiay and company be able to get out in transition, or will Deron Williams and Yogi Ferrell turn this into a grind it out half-court game? Will it vary over stretches of the 48-minutes? The key to tonight’s game if the reader has not yet discerned is pace: whichever team can control and play its game will be the victor in two fairly evenly matched teams whose roster constructions could not be any more different.
Dallas is still built around the aged brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki, but perhaps far less so than in season’s past. Free agent acquisition Harrison Barnes has assumed the role of primary scorer, and the UNC product has thrived in that role. Barnes is averaging over 20 points per game from the 3-spot, and along with the emergence of Ferrell, it has made all the difference for a team many had already written off. Ferrell has averaged 17.8 points and five assists per game in his four NBA starts, and appears to be one of the major steals of the season. Some are even harkening elements of Jeremy Lin’s ascent several seasons ago, the vaunted “Linsanity” of the New York Knicks. It is not a bad comparison.
Ferrell is shooting 52 percent from three point range on 6.3 attempts per night, and is shooting an affective field goal percentage of 56 percent. Veterans Wes Matthews and J.J. Barea have been healthy and effective, and younger brother Seth Curry is looking more and more like his MVP brother as Dallas rounds into shape.
With competent veteran leadership and hot youngsters, Dallas could sneak into the playoffs and put a scare into any top team: This is the Mavericks that we expected to be in this season, not the team that struggled out of the gates and was legitimately the worst in the league for the first quarter of the season.
Meanwhile the story in Denver has been the emergence of Most Improved Player candidate Nikola Jokic. He is dropping triple-doubles as a point center, and despite battling some nagging injuries he has helped Denver become an offensive team that can run even with the likes of Golden State. Defense remains the issue of the Nuggets’ season, but the offensive brilliance of Jokic, Mudiay and the assortment of wing scorers has kept Nuggets fans interested and the team is very much relevant.
As to what its future may hold, that is tougher to discern with a glut of talent in both the frontcourt and backcourt, but little to determine beyond the fact that Mudiay and Jokic are the key components of Denver’s future.
The Nuggets still have lost three of its past four SU. All but the 121-97 loss to the San Antonio Spurs were close games, and the problem is that Denver has given up 119 points or more in all six of its past games. That is not a winning formula, even when the Nuggets are fully capable of getting buckets and running the score up in its own right.
Denver averages 110 points per game and has seven players on its roster averaging double-figures. The fact that Denver does this while being a middling team in three-point shooting is perhaps what makes it most incredible.
The Nuggets hit 9.8 threes per game at a 36.4 percent clip, but perhaps adding another shooter by trading Will Barton could give Denver something it has been missing. Of course, the upside will ultimately be capped by this team’s poor team defense, and until the Nuggets figure out how to stop teams the losses will continue to pile up. Denver is better than expected, but adding shooting and defense probably would propel this team into the lock of the playoffs rather than its fringe spot it currently occupies.