The Denver Nuggets dropped their third game in a row, losing 116-115 to the Dallas Mavericks in the final seconds. Nuggets guard Bruce Brown hit a clutch three-pointer to give the Nuggets a late lead, but Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith hit a three in response. Finney-Smith received the ball at the top of the key after a pick-and-pop with Luka Dončić, who had a triple double of 22 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds.

The Nuggets had a chance to win the game at the end after two straight free throw misses by Finney-Smith with four seconds remaining. Unfortunately, the Nuggets did not have a timeout at their disposal and couldn’t advance the ball, leading to a buzzer-beating heave from Jamal Murray that fell way short.

Aaron Gordon led all Nuggets scorers with 27 points on 13 shots. He was fantastic around the rim and hit multiple three-pointers. Bones Hyland came off the bench and played 30 minutes, scoring 20 points on 7-of-15 from the field and 5-of-10 from three-point range, chipping in five assists as well. Nikola Jokić also contributed 19 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds himself.

The Nuggets had a chance at the end, which is more than they can say for their previous two losses. Unfortunately, the result was the same, and the Nuggets will now go back on the road as a reward and face the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday.

Here are the primary takeaways from the Nuggets’ matchup against the Mavericks on Tuesday night:

Turnovers are a killer

The Nuggets turned the ball over 17 times on Tuesday night and allowed the Mavericks to score 23 points on those turnovers. It’s easier said than done to stop those turnovers, but the Nuggets simply have to find a way to protect the basketball more than they did. Sloppy passes, dribbling into traffic, committing charges and screening fouls, the Nuggets found ways to do it all tonight, and it cost them dearly.

Defensive struggles continue

When asked about the inconsistencies on the defensive end, Michael Malone shared: ““That’s kind of been our issue this year. We’ve had moments. We’ve had quarters, halves, we’ve had some games. It just hasn’t been consistent enough to string enough stops together.”

When asked about the most concerning aspect of Denver’s three-game losing streak, Gordon shared: “Our energy level and our urgency level at the defensive end.”

When asked about the team’s concern level for the defensive issues, Bones shared: “We’re frustrated. We know we’re giving up so many games right now. We’re losing games that we’re supposed to be winning, and we know we’re not giving a sense of urgency to defend and go out there and compete every night.”

The Nuggets know what the problem is. It’s relatively easy to identify. The urgency and intensity simply hasn’t been present from night to night on the less glamorous end. It’s difficult to play 82 regular season games of stellar defense and still be physically prepared for the playoffs. For the Nuggets though, they’d probably settle for “consistently solid” right about now.

If the Nuggets are ever going to win a championship, they will lock in on the defensive end. The coaches know it. The players know it. The NBA world at large certainly knows it. The only two questions are when Denver will up the intensity level on that end and if they can sustain it against elite teams. The Mavericks punished them for sloppy closeouts tonight and hit 17 three-pointers, including the game-winner. This is a great example of what Denver’s defense often looks like when they try against a good team: good enough to make them work for it but not good enough to succeed.

It’s time for the Nuggets to fix that.

Bones Hyland steps up

Michael Malone and Bones Hyland spoke for an extended period of time during shootaround today, with Malone offering some words of encouragement for the second-year guard and his importance to the team. That was proven true this evening with Bones playing 30 minutes off the bench, replacing Jamal Murray at times due to foul trouble and offensive struggles. Bones responded with a 20-point night, including five three-pointers and five assists. He made some important plays in the fourth quarter on both ends of the floor, hitting a clutch three-pointer midway through the fourth and getting some good defensive possessions.

Unfortunately, the defense remains a challenge as a whole. The Mavericks sought out Bones on switches tonight for Dončić and Spencer Dinwiddie post ups. Both guards stand 6’6″ or taller and weigh plenty more than Bones, and he struggled to defend without fouling in those situations. In addition, the weak side rotations allowed for several wide open threes for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Finney-Smith.

The Nuggets need Bones’ offense to survive. They also need his defense to be better. it’s a fine line to walk with a second-year player, and Malone is in a tough spot trying to manage it. The bench lineup was mostly successful tonight though, keeping the game within range against a strong Mavericks second unit. Perhaps Bones and the bench Nuggets can use this game as some momentum to generate better, more consistent possessions on both ends.

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