Good, bad and ugly: Nuggets grab 21st win of the year over Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris (34) falls to the court as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) screens for guard Malik Beasley (25) in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Dec 18, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris (34) falls to the court as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) screens for guard Malik Beasley (25) in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Capping off their four-game homestand, the Denver Nuggets welcomed in the Dallas Mavericks.

The game, posing as the eighth of the month for the hosts, represented the two-thirds completion mark of the teams’ December slate. With winning marks in both October and November, the Nuggets were seeking to aid their efforts towards a third-straight winning month, a feat they accomplished with a 126-118 win.

The game also pushed the teams’ record to 21-9, their best start in franchise history, all despite a lackluster effort from their top-five defense.

Good – The Nuggets starters who are not on the injury report

With the loss of Gary Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap, the Nuggets not only lost three of their five starters, but also a trio of their top-five scorers on the year.

The Nuggets offense has continued to succeed nonetheless.

Against the Mavericks, the hosts picked up where they left off, accumulating 74 points in the first half alone. As one of the teams’ remaining starters, Jokic continued his momentum with 22 points of 50 percent from the field in the opening half.

Brunson, inserted into the lineup with the Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. out to injury again, consistently got switched onto Jokic on defense. The mismatch served as a catalyst for the big man’s success.

Facilitating the Serbian center and others alike was Jamal Murray, the only other starter remaining from opening night. In the first half alone, Murray already posted double-digit assists and bested his previous career high (10) with 13 dimes.

In the game, the Nuggets guard finished with 15 points for the fourth double-double of his young career. The assist total ended Jokic’s streak of four-straight games leading the Nuggets in points, rebounds and assists respectively in each.

The two finished the game with 54 points, 23 rebounds and 19 assists combined, far and away the highest totals for any duo in the matchup.

Bad – Defense

Outside of a 44-point effort combined in the final quarter, the defensive end was widely neglected.

Entering the contest Tuesday night, the Nuggets (109.4) and Mavericks (109.6) sat at 17th and 18th respectively in points per game as a team.

Despite combining for 219 points per game throughout the early part of the year, the two teams tallied a combined 143 points in the first half alone. The Nuggets were allowed to breach the century mark before the final period had even begun.

Particularly in the first half, the Nuggets were unable to stop any of the Mavericks’ offensive flow.

The visitors, who sat 21st in 3-point percentage (34.3) prior to the game, hit 62.5 percent of their attempts from outside in the first half. Their tally from outside aided a 56-percent mark from the field altogether in the opening 24 minutes.

Once the Mavericks cooled off from outside, the Nuggets took over. With no answer for the aforementioned Jokic, the visiting squad allowed 40 points in the second quarter and 31 points in the third.

Exploiting their mismatch down low allowed the Nuggets to post 64 points in the paint, racking up a 55.6-percent clip from the field.

The win ended the Nuggets streak of six-straight home wins with their opponent under 100, but continued the teams’ run atop the Western Conference once more. Their spree atop the conference is the third-longest in franchise history thus far.

Ugly- The Nuggets lack of theft

With a 21st overall spot in turnovers forced per game prior to the game, the Nuggets weren’t racking up the steals.

Their previous average was a longshot for the squad against the Mavericks as the hosts forced a mere eight turnovers in the game’s entirety, with half coming in the comeback efforts of the visitors.

The energy from the Nuggets was present, but the results were not. After forcing multiple deflections and turnovers from the Toronto Raptors in their last game, the same thieving ways were missing.

With the Mavericks missing Smith, along with posing a backcourt of two rookies, the Nuggets were poised to take advantage. Instead, the two first-year players only gave the ball away one time between them.

When the Nuggets gain back their defensive stalwarts in Harris and Millsap, the results figure to reverse course somewhat, but for now, the Nuggets are struggling to accumulate takeaways.