A Denver Nuggets vs. Mavericks Playoff Matchup: Outlook

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets could face Dallas in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. How does this pan out? Nugg Love looks at some of the strategies that Denver could employ.

If the season ended today, the Denver Nuggets would host Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. The talent in the west is such that the gap between these teams is not large and as is the case in most playoff series the winner will likely be determined by which team matches up better with the other.

How to stop Luka?

When it comes to this matchup, there’s one primary thing that can cause the Nuggets problems and that is all-star starter, Luka Doncic. He’s incredibly skilled and has great size for his position. He’s a difficult matchup for any team because he’s too big for most guard defenders and two crafty for most wing/big defenders.

Gary Harris has actually had success guarding Luka despite the difference in height. The first game these two teams played this season saw Luka have one of his worst games of the year, thanks to the hounding defense of the Nuggets shooting guard. Despite getting very little from their star, the Mavericks still got the win.

That’s the difference between Luka and some of the league’s other stars, if he doesn’t have it on that particular night, he’s more than willing to take a step back and facilitate for his teammates. So the usual idea of stopping a star and winning the game doesn’t work as ideally here, because even if he’s struggling to score, he elevates the play of his cast, (much like Jokic) and allows them to still contribute positively to his team.

Conventional wisdom states that the best strategy against Dallas may be to make things difficult for Luka, but not to the point that it forces him to defer. His teammates are good enough and make teams pay if they sell out to stop Luka. Basically, you want to make it difficult for him, but still force him to try to score. The key is reducing his efficiency without him choosing to drop his usage.

Between Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, and maybe even Jerami Grant, I think the Nuggets have the personnel to pull this off. They can keep one of those guys on him at all times. They are probably as equipped as any team in the league in doing so simply because they have multiple guys they can throw at him to slow him down.

Limiting the Supporting Cast

Beyond Luka, the Mavericks are an excellent 3 point shooting team (5th in the NBA as a team) and an important part of this matchup is how effectively the Nuggets can run their shooters off the 3 point line. The Nuggets defense relies heavily on sharp, disciplined rotations. It’s a swarming defense and it especially has to swarm against the Mavericks.

If the Denver Nuggets can get the Mavericks shooters to put the ball on the ground, then they’ll find success against the Mavs. They are a team of spot-up shooters, and forcing them to challenge a closeout will make things more difficult.

This strategy holds up for their second star Kristaps Porzingis as well. Porzingis isn’t a big threat in the post and he’s not great off the dribble. His biggest strengths will always be spotting up and getting put backs. Forcing him off the 3 point line and boxing out should all but neutralize his offensive impact.

The same could be said for guys like Hardaway and Kleber, excellent spot-up shooters, but not nearly as effective when they are forced to create for themselves. Fortunately, if run properly, the Nuggets defense is designed to combat these types of players. That said it’s a difficult defense to run effectively and when mistakes are made a wide-open shot will be available.

As I’m sure Michael Malone preaches before every game regardless of the matchup, defensive discipline will be key in a playoff series against Dallas. They just can’t fall asleep off-ball against a team with so many dangerous shooters and a passer as talented as Luka.

Additionally, they need to rebound and box out, you can’t give a great shooting too many second-chance opportunities. Offensive rebounds often lead to kick-outs to wide-open shooters and the Nuggets are susceptible to that. As much as possible, the Nuggets need to limit the Mavs to one scoring opportunity per possession.

Can Dallas Stop Jokic?

On the flip side of this matchup is the question of how the Mavericks matchup with Nikola Jokic, and that’s where Dallas really runs into problems. No one in the Mavericks’ rotation can stop Jokic in the post. In previous seasons it has looked like Dwight Powell could at least bother him a little bit, but in games this season Jokic, was moving him around like he was a 12-year-old.

Kleber doesn’t really have the size, and Kristaps doesn’t have the girth to stop him either, which means there’s no one that can hope to guard Jokic one-on-one, especially in a playoff environment. This means they are going to have to double and force the ball out of his hands. Now, this is far from ideal against Jokic as he is so good at finding the open man, but it’s really the only option Dallas has.

They have to get Jokic to pass the ball and just hope the rest of the Nuggets don’t make them pay. The question then becomes whether or not the supporting cast for the Denver Nuggets can be effective enough to get the win. Last postseason, the only Nugget who was consistently effective offensively was Jamal Murray, and between him and Jokic, that was nearly enough to get them to the conference finals.

I’m not sure that will always be the case this year, but with a revitalized Will Barton and the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets have more offensive weapons this year than they had last year. If Jamal Murray continues to play as he has since returning from injuries he alone may be enough to make Dallas pay for their double teams, but if not they do have other guys they can turn to for offense.

Ultimately I think this matchup against Dallas is a pretty favorable one for the Denver Nuggets. Their game plan should be pretty simple, hound Luka on ball, chase shooters off the three-point line, and limit second-chance opportunities. If they can do that effectively, they should be able to win the series pretty easily as the Mavericks just don’t have an answer for Nikola Jokic.

Next. How Should the Denver Nuggets Fill Their Final Roster Spot?. dark