The Denver Nuggets came out with energy and fire against the Dallas Mavericks tonight. Unfortunately, after punching the home team in the mouth, Denver’s energy and defense trailed off and they found themselves in an all out dog fight that couldn’t be settled in just forty-eight minutes. In the end, too many threes, too much Raymond Felton (not a typo) and perhaps a little too much small ball would get the best of Denver and the Mavericks won the game, 122-116.

The game started out well for Denver. A series of Mavericks turnovers turned into points on the other end. Faried in particular played well to begin the game. He scored eight points and snatched four rebounds in his first seven minutes of play helping the Nuggets get out to a 14-6 lead. When Denver started getting into some foul trouble Coach Malone elected to go small and subbed in Will Barton for Faried and Darrell Arthur for Nikola Jokic.

The small ball line up paid off at first and Denver was able to extend its lead to twelve behind Danilo Gallinari and Barton (they were also aided by some poor shooting from the Mavericks). The Mavericks countered by bringing Dirk Nowitzki back into the game who looked to exploit his match up with Gallinari or whomever the Nuggets switched on him in the pick and roll. The quarter closed with a pair of Barton free throws and Denver leading 28-20.

Denver went ultra small to open the second, utilizing Arthur and Jakarr Sampson as their center and power forward respectively. Neither team scored much to start and Rick Carlisle inserted ZaZa Pachulai back into the game which ended the Arthur-Sampson combo with little damage. The Mavericks struggled heavily to start the second. Multiple turnovers led to easy baskets for Denver who stretched the lead out to fifteen on the back of a 9-0 run.

Gary Harris got hot from the three point line which offset what little offense the Mavericks could muster in the middle of the second quarter. However, several ticky tack fouls called against the Nuggets kept the game from getting completely out of hand. Additionally, the Nuggets got very careless at the end of the quarter, settling for jump shots, turning the ball over, the type of play that was very prevalent in their recent losses. This poor play allowed the Mavericks to close the gap to twelve at the end of the half.

Jokic opened the second half with three straight points for the Nuggets but the rest of the team was content to take jump shots. The Mavericks worked Denver's lead down to seven before coach Malone took a timeout. Dallas was doing what Denver needed to by attacking the rim and either getting points in the paint or getting wide open three point shots on kick outs. Had it not been for some strong play from Faried, the Nuggets would have been trailing early in the third quarter.

As the quarter drew to a close the Nuggets started attacking the basket more to get some much needed points from the free throw line. However, Chandler Parsons caught fire in the third and when he buried a three pointer with about four minutes remaining the Mavericks seized a two point lead in the game. The teams traded leads before a series of blocks from Gallinari and Arthur led to a Barton lay up. The bad part of that sequence was after blocking a shot Gallo came down on D.J. Augustin’s foot and twisted his ankle. Arthur hit a big three to end the third with a four point lead as Gallo limped to the locker room.

Arthur opened the fourth quarter with another basket which Harris followed with a fast break lay up. The Nuggets kept Dallas at arm’s length in the beginning of the fourth quarter. With each Mavericks basket to cut the lead to four or two Denver would respond in kind. After a timeout with about nine minutes remaining, coach Malone went back to the small lineup this time with Arthur at center and Mike Miller at power forward. Surprisingly, the unit sparked a 14-2 run highlighted by Harris and Miller back to back threes.

Coach Malone clearly lost his mind after that and subbed out Arthur for Mudiay, leaving Miller as the center. Yes, Mike Miller was playing center in an NBA game. The Mavericks of course got points on back to back possessions where they secured offensive rebounds but to Denver's credit, they continued to attack the lane and still held a thirteen point lead with under six minutes to play.

Faried and Arthur checked back in the game as news came down that x-rays were negative on Gallo's ankle. Ironically, once the Nuggets started playing bigger (they were still playing pretty small) the Mavericks started narrowing the gap. Nowitzki and the Mavs hit some clutch shots and Denver had some sloppy turnovers as the lead was reduced to four points. After a timeout the Nuggets had a nice mini run but Dallas responded with one of their own and inside a minute to go the lead was only three.

Matthews got a foul but went 1 of 2 from the free throw line and Denver followed it up with a bad three point shot from Arthur. The Nuggets played excellent defense for about 20 seconds of the next possession before finally breaking down and Augustin gave a wide open lane to Raymond Felton who sunk the lay up with ease. With 10.5 seconds the game was tied, Nuggets ball. In what looked like Barton's decision, the Nuggets decided to not run a play and go iso with him on Felton which ended up in a poor contested jumper and the game headed to overtime.

Coach Malone elected to ride Augustin instead of Mudiay in overtime and he opened it with a nice alley oop pass to Faried. Meanwhile, Felton used his girth against Augustin and barreled into the lane on back to back possessions for layups. Both teams spent the beginning of overtime attacking the basket and trading buckets until a Matthews three and a Felton lay up off a turnover gave the Mavericks a three point lead with just over two minutes to play.

Faried converted two free throws out of a timeout and then Dallas turned the ball over but the Nuggets couldn't convert on the other end. Felton, who was playing the best basketball of his career apparently, got to the rim again for another layup. Arthur couldn't convert on the Nuggets end but the Mavericks turned it over and Denver had the ball trailing by three points with 42 seconds remaining. Barton missed a three but an offensive rebound by Harris led to Faried getting fouled with 22 seconds remaining. He missed both but flew in for an offensive rebound. Despite all the Manimal's efforts, the game was squandered on an ill advised Barton three and the Mavericks iced the game away with free throws.

Key matchup: Kenneth Faried vs Dirk Nowitzki

Both players had very good nights overall. Faried was able to utilize his energy and athleticism to get double digit points and rebounds while Nowitzki played his usual game and piled up a double double of his own. Denver switched a lot on Nowitizki which often left a guard trying to defend him in the post, a mismatch he easily took advantage of. You'd probably score this one a draw when it was all said and done. Each guy played well but neither one had a monstrous game.

Key thing to watch for: Small ball

The small ball broke out in spades tonight. Arthur, Gallinari and even Miller got some burn at the five spot. Despite some definitely eyebrow raising lineups, the small ball was very effective until the last five minutes of the game. When Denver was able to create leads in the second and fourth quarters it was by utilizing their smaller lineups and while Mudiay wasn't able to take advantage of the lack of rim protection from the Mavs, Augustin sure was and he had a big night offensively. However, the Nuggets stuck with the small ball lineup a little too long as the Mavericks got to the rim at will in the late stages of the game to get the victory.

Closing thought: There's got to be some more flexibility in the lineups

I felt like coach Malone was a slave to playing small tonight. While it worked for some portions of the game, not playing Jokic virtually at all in the fourth quarter and overtime definitely hurt the team. I get that there is strategy behind the size of your line up but honestly the Nuggets were lucky to keep it as close as they did. Nowitzki could have had a much bigger night with how many times he found himself defended by a guard in the post but luckily he wasn't having his best night shooting. Here's hoping Gallo will be ok and we never have to see Mike Miller play center again.

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