It’s probably time that we check to see if Pepsi Center sits atop an ancient holy land or burial ground. Or if somewhere years ago someone wearing a rainbow skyline jersey or the shiny powder blue did something to personally offend the basketball gods.

I say that even as the Denver Nuggets sit atop the Western Conference standings, staring down at lesser teams such as the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers. Despite their 20-9 start – the best Nuggets start since 2010-11 – the Nuggets just can’t catch a break. After starting their four-game homestand without the services of Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, and Will Barton, the Nuggets now look to closeout a perfect week in the mile high city without Juancho Hernangomez, who is listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game.

The challenger is the new kid on the block. Luka Doncic. It’s impossible to wrap up the rookie of the year award by December but Doncic leads by about as much as you can through 28 games. The former Euroleague champion and MVP is averaging a team-high 18 points per game and is second on the Mavericks in assists, rebounds, and steals. Like Denver’s own, Nikola Jokic, Doncic plays with a style and flair all his own, throwing no-look passes, pass fakes, and step back threes with the confidence and sometimes recklessness of a player too talented to be constrained by regular basketball.

The Mavericks as a team have been a surprise. Picked by many to be one of the worst teams out west, the Mavs currently sit as the 7-seed, with a 15-13 record. Although they are limping into Denver on a two-game losing streak, they are a team that is explosive, gritty, and under the leadership of one of the league’s best coaches in Rick Carlisle.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (20-9) vs Dallas Mavericks (15-13)
When: 7:00 PM MST
Where: Pepsi Center | Denver, CO
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV,, the AltitudeNOW App and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM
Rival Blog: Mavs Moneyball

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Injury Report: Standard for the Nuggets, except for Juancho Hernangomez, who is questionable with an abdominal strain. JJ Barea is questionable with an ankle injury.

Three things to know

It all comes down to Jokic

There is a certain subset of fans who always call for Jokic to be more “aggressive” looking for his shot. I’ve maintained that there is a computer in the back of his brain that calculates the odds of every decision he makes and often times, that brain-computer signals that he is best used creating an open shot for a teammate, and not attacking the rim for the sake of attacking. With so much of the scoring talent on the Nuggets roster sidelined, that brain-computer has begun spitting out different advice. Through the first three games of this homestand, Jokic is scoring 25.7 points per game, eight points more than his season average. As is usual, when Jokic is needed to score the ball, he does. Tonight, he’ll need to score.

Defending the wing

Will Barton is out. So too is Gary Harris. Juancho is questionable. If he can’t play, who starts at small forward? Tyler Lydon, who has played just 29 minutes this season? Nick Young, who signed with the team a week ago? Malik Beasley, who is the only option who has played real minutes this year. But then who would come off of the bench? Meanwhile, the two most dangerous players on the Mavs roster are the aforementioned Doncic and Harrison Barnes, both tall wings who operate in isolation, pick and roll, and through the post. Denver is weak where Dallas is strong so that will make for a style fight.

Is Murray still on fire?

Jamal Murray took over the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction. Denver needed a problem solver and there was Murray, knocking down three-pointers and calmly handling the situation like a 10-year vet. The funny thing with Murray is that he has been a volcano waiting to explode all year. There have been little eruptions, like the 50 48 point game against the Celtics, but Murray has yet to unleash a string of games where he looks like the 1B to Jokic’s 1A. Will his hot 4th quarter shooting carry over?

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