Both the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks came within a handful of plays of starting 3-0. The two teams meet Wednesday in Denver, where the undersized Nuggets will try to contend with the taller Mavericks.
Denver (2-1) has two players taller than 6-foot-9 on its roster - Nene and Melvin Ely - and Ely has logged just 16 minutes. Newcomers Al Harrington and Shelden Williams, however, have made significant contributions in lessening the impact of injuries to Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen.
Harrington has averaged 16.0 points and 6.3 rebounds as Denver's top reserve, while Williams has grabbed a team-high 37 rebounds and helped the Nuggets outrebound all three opponents.
Even with those contributions, the offensive efforts of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups likely will determine Denver's fate. Anthony, a subject of trade rumors as long as he doesn't sign the extension offered by the Nuggets, had 24 points in a 107-94 win at Houston on Saturday. Billups added 13 but continued his early shooting slump by going 1 for 10 from the field.
The duo will likely have to play well from the perimeter Wednesday as Denver coach George Karl expects the Mavericks to rotate their trio of 7-footers - Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler.
"Dallas is going to play some zone against us, so we're probably going to have to tune up our zone offense a little bit," Karl told the Nuggets' official website after practice Monday. "The problems of the NBA are always coming out you and you're trying to get better through the process."
Billups is shooting 27.6 percent but does have a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Aaron Afflalo has picked up the scoring slack by averaging 14.0 points on 63.6 percent shooting.
Dallas' size is paying dividends on the defensive end. The Mavericks (2-1) have limited opponents to an NBA-worst 37.4 percent shooting and 86.7 points per game. They limited the Los Angeles Clippers to 34.1 percent shooting in a 99-83 road win Sunday afternoon and had balance offensively with six players in double figures.
"When we're able to get stops, it makes the game so much easier," said Shawn Marion, who has averaged 10.0 points while adjusting to his new role as a reserve. "When everybody is helping each other, communication on the floor and talking to each other, you see an entirely different team out there."
Marion's willingness to come off the bench has helped coach Rick Carlisle solidify an eight-man rotation that has kept the Mavericks fresh. Dallas is shooting 49.6 percent, paced by Dirk Nowitzki averaging 23.7 points while making 29 of 42 shots (69.0 percent).
Additionally, point guard Jason Kidd has distributed the ball well - totaling 35 assists in three games and finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Sunday.
Nowitzki posted double-doubles in Dallas' two wins over Denver last season, but the Nuggets romped 127-91 at home for their lone victory in three overall meetings. Anthony has averaged 23.0 points in 21 lifetime games versus the Mavericks, but was held to 15.0 per game on 31.4 percent shooting (16 for 51) in 2009-10.