The NBA In-Season Tournament is here, and if you’re wondering what that means, the short answer is nothing for most of the teams in the league. While the courts may be changed, the players on the court do not, and for the most part, this is just another regular season game. One of the games that is set to open the tournament is the Dallas Mavericks taking on the Denver Nuggets, and with Kyrie Irving back in action tonight, I like Dallas in an underdog spot.
Over their past two games, the Dallas Mavericks have been without point guard Kyrie Irving, but with the way Luka Doncic has been playing it didn’t affect the team’s success. Dallas went 2-0 without Irving, giving them a perfect 4-0 record heading into tonight’s matchup with the reigning NBA champs. Through four games, Doncic is averaging 33.8 points per game, and despite his poor shooting night against the Bulls their last time out, Dallas still managed a 114-105 win over Chicago.
All three facets of Doncic’s game have been on display, as he is .2 assists per game away from averaging a triple-double. With his play coming in at a high level and the team’s 58.2% effective field goal percentage, it is unsurprising that the Mavs are 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency rating at (121). Overall, the team is 6th in NET rating, and the only reason they are high is because of their offense.
Defensively, the team still has a lot of concerns, as they are allowing an average of 113.5 points per game, which has them ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency rating. With numbers like that, the Mavs offense will need to continue their impressive output to keep pace with a Nuggets team that is 7th in offensive rating.
Denver was torching the nets through the first four games of the season, but they hit a snag on Wednesday night against the Timberwolves, resulting in a 110-89 loss. After shooting 40% from the field and 18% from three in the game, the Nuggets are now 10th in the league in true shooting percentage. Every team will have down shooting nights through the course of a season, but it’s hard to imagine Denver continues to shoot like that tonight at home, where they have a league-best 54.3% field goal percentage.
Dallas will start the In-Season Tournament as (+6.5) point underdogs, and with this being their first big matchup of the season, I think their offense comes out firing to help them cover this number. This will by far be the Mavericks' toughest test in terms of opposing defense since Denver is 6th in defensive rating, but Dallas went 3-1 ATS against the Nuggets last season, and their offense looks too good to be completely shut out tonight.
The Mavericks have the 9th best field goal percentage and 3rd best three-point percentage in the league this season, but the one area they should find the most success is in the paint. Despite their strong defensive rating, the Nuggets have allowed the 4th highest average of points in the paint per game, and in the two games Irving played this season, Dallas averaged 53 points in the paint.
On the other side, no team is scoring more points in the paint than the Nuggets, but the Mavs have been slightly above the league average in paint points allowed. Additionally, the Nuggets have yet to find their stroke from deep, ranking 18th in three-point percentage up to this point. If Dallas can find success inside the paint and stay hot from deep, I think they’ll at least hang around tonight in Denver.
Dallas Mavericks (+6.5)(-106 on FanDuel)