The Mavericks raced out to an early lead behind the hot shooting of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk opened the game by scoring the Mavericks' first 10 points, helping them grab a 13-2 lead. Denver fought back, but for every Nuggets rally, the Mavericks seemed to have an answer. The Nuggets held the Mavericks to just 97 points, their 6th lowest point total of the season. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as the Nuggets fell 97-89.
The Nuggets showed a lot of fight and some toughness tonight. After the game, Mavericks' coach Rick Carlisle praised the Nuggets saying "[the Nuggets] made it difficult... it wasn't an easy game." The Mavericks came out swinging in the opening minutes of the game and for awhile it appeared as though the game was going to get out of hand. Dirk Nowitzki hit his first four shots and scored on four of the Mavs' first five possessions. The Nuggets fought back and pulled within two points later in the quarter. In the 2nd quarter the Nuggets fell into a scoring drought, scoring just one point in the first 5:12 of the quarter but again fought back to pull within three points just before halftime. In the 3rd period the Mavericks pulled ahead by 13, but once again the Nuggets fought back to close within six going into the 4th quarter. The Nuggets have folded under similar circumstances earlier in the season so it was nice to see the team fight through adversity and keep this one interesting throughout.
Jameer Nelson already appears to fit with this team better than Nate Robinson did. Jameer made a few very nice passes and helped keep the Nuggets organized on several stretches throughout the game. The Nuggets lack on-court leadership when Lawson is out of the game and Jameer seems very capable of keeping the team on track when he is the only point guard on the floor. Shaw seemed to like his new point guard so much that the problem might become Shaw leaning too much on his point guard duo.
The Jusuf Nurkic/Kenneth Faried combo showed flashes of chemistry once again. One trend that I see developing is Nurkic taking up a lot of space inside by boxing out and fighting for offensive rebounds which opens up space for Faried to grab putback dunks. Faried had a couple of nice putbacks tonight while the two shared the court together.
Wilson Chandler provided one of the best Nuggets highlights of the season with a nasty one-handed jam on Tyson Chandler. Chandler is good for at least one filthy smash per year and it will be difficult to top the one tonight.
The worst of the worst
Ty Lawson really struggled with his shot tonight, both from the field and from the charity stripe. He finished just 3-13 including a banked 3-pointer from the wing. He was also just 4-9 from the free throw line. As a team the Nuggets finished 12-25 from the free throw line, good for 48%. For comparison, Dwight Howard is shooting 52% from the free throw line on the season.
Jusuf Nurkic had a predictably frustrating game. In the preview for tonight's game I mentioned how Chandler was a difficult matchup for Nurkic and Dallas came right out of the gate looking to exploit that mismatch. The Mavericks used Chandler's mobility to pull Nurkic way out on pick and roll coverage forcing Nurkic to pick between staying with the ball handler or dropping back to cover the roll guy. It was a catch-22 and Nurkic just doesn't yet have the speed or timing to stop that type of action. After the Mavericks scored repeatedly on lob passes to the roll guy, the Nuggets started to over rotate to compensate, leaving 3-point shooters wide open around the perimeter.
Nurkic also struggled on the offensive end, shooting just 1-7 from the field. However, I personally don't think this is much cause for concern. Nurkic is a rookie and a robust offensive scorer at best. The scoring part of his post game will probably be the slowest piece of his game to develop. His post struggles are accentuated by Denver's terribly stagnant post attack which allowed Dallas to send double coverage on post ups. Nurkic employed a few decent moves but his touch just wasn't there tonight.
Brian Shaw has developed a habit of sticking with his guys for too long and tonight was a prime example. Both Chandler and Afflalo tallied 40+ minutes tonight while JJ Hickson played nearly the entire 2nd half. It was a very tight rotation and one that wasn't necessarily effective. Nurkic seemed to be making a few nice defensive adjustments late in the 2nd quarter and it was difficult to watch Shaw bench him when his replacement, JJ Hickson, was equally as ineffective.
The two point guard lineup is also one that Shaw stuck with for far too long tonight. The Mavericks are very good at forcing switches in the pick and roll and playing two relatively small guards at the same time allowed the Mavericks to get easy looks at the basket at will.