The Nuggets were looking to go on a 6-game winning streak Saturday night on the second night of a back to back but the Mavericks had other plans. Denver went on a 9-0 run to start the game and then Kristaps Porzingis’ 8 points led Dallas on a 10-2 scoring run to end the quarter.
After that, Denver couldn’t find a way to get back in it. Dallas converted that 10-2 run to a 20-point lead, shot 18 threes and grabbed 49 rebounds. It’s hard to pinpoint just one area of struggle for the Nuggets. It was a mixture of things. Quality shot selection, defensive effort and rebounding the ball were non-existent and they flat out looked exhausted. Although Michael Malone didn’t want to make any excuses, his team had every right to feel sluggish.
“I’m sure I could use the convenient excuse of back to back, playing a tough game in Memphis last night, getting in late,” Malone said. “There was a big screw up with the testing today. They tested in the morning and then because there was a mistake they had to come back to the arena.”
The Nuggets, and every NBA team, are required to get tested for COVID three times a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening. For the teams who are playing back to backs or traveling on the road, they’re landing in the AM hours and then have to get up just a few hours later to go get tested.
“Of course it is (tiring) no one wants to get back after 2am and then it takes a while to go to sleep and then have to wake up at 8 o’clock to go test,” Michael Porter Jr said. So that’s hard for guys but this is our job so no excuses. We aren’t doing things that other teams aren’t doing.”
Denver is also playing a lot of back to backs and haven’t been given as many series games as other teams have. Malone thinks this second half of the schedule is going to be even more difficult for his players.
“Somehow we have to figure it out because as tough as the first half of the season was this second half is going to be even more challenging because of the density of games,” Malone said. “I think we’re playing close to 4 games a week, we’re playing more back to backs, we for some reason didn’t get the luxury of playing those series games on the road that everybody else gets.”
Malone went on to say that Denver has the least amount of series games on the road than all of the Western Conference teams, which has made road games even more challenging.
The Nuggets were just not mentally or physically in this matchup.
The Mavericks opened the second quarter going on a 18-5 run. Luka Doncic scored 10 of his 21 points in the quarter and Dallas collectively shot 60 percent from the field while Denver shot 35 percent.
Jamal Murray, who came off a poor shooting night on Friday against Memphis, stayed in a slump and missed 17 straight points (Friday night included) until a put back bucket at the 7:25 mark of the second quarter. He finished the half with just 2 points.
Will Barton, who had shooting struggles of his own earlier in the season, offered some advice and words of encouragement for Murray.
“I try to stay on him about shooting more and being more aggressive to help him figure out ways because we need him,” Barton said. “We still need him to be aggressive. There’s going to be games like that and stretches where he might not be shooting a high percentage but we still need him to put pressure on defense.”
Barton had 17 points and Jokić’s 16 going into the half and kept things relatively close as the Mavericks led 62-51.
Third quarter, the Mavericks were on fire shooting 50 percent from long range. Porzingis hit two more threes while Josh Richardson added three. The Nuggets not only struggled getting stops but they couldn’t convert on the offensive end going 8 of 20 from the field.
The Mavericks extended the lead to 20 points and took a 93-73 lead to end the third quarter.
“We did not play nearly well enough on either end of the floor,” Malone said. “The reason we were 10 and 4 in our last 14 games and 5-0 in our last 5 because we were a top 5 defensive and offensive team.”
Fourth quarter, it was pretty much the same story. Dallas making and Denver missing. But then Michael Porter Jr. scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to get the Nuggets within striking distance. Then Jokić hit a triple to cut the Mavericks lead to 12 with 5:00 left to play.
But as much as the Nuggets tried keeping it close, they just couldn’t stop Porzingis. He kept shooting with confidence and finished the game with 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field and 5 of 7 from three while Richardson shot 6 of 11 from the field and 4 of 5 from three for 20 points.
It was a disappointing start to the Nuggets home stand as they lose 116-103 to the Mavericks.
Jokić led Denver in scoring with 26 points to go along with 11 assists and 9 rebounds. Porter Jr. had another strong game with 23 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 from downtown. Will Barton also added 23 on 8 of 17 from the field and 5 of 10 from three.
The Nuggets have a day off on Sunday and host the Pacers on Monday.