The Denver Nuggets, coming off a pair of wins, looked to keep the good vibes going with the Dallas Mavericks visiting. They got off to a good start and had their chance to put away the Mavs in the third but Luka Doncic caught fire late while Denver’s defense collapsed. The Nuggets got a great start from Jamal Murray and a great finish from Nikola Jokic but it wasn’t enough. Denver ends up dropping it in overtime 124-117

The game started pretty sluggish and sloppy, each team had only two points after two minutes had passed. Barton got into early foul trouble and had to come off the court which oddly sparked a 6-0 Nuggets run. Denver wasn’t shooting it all that great as the quarter passed the halfway point but the Mavericks were ice cold to keep the Nuggets in front by about a half dozen. The tides turned shortly after that, Dallas got a 12-3 run behind Denver’s now ice cold shooting and tied the game up at 14. It stayed back and forth when the Nuggets bench came in but it was now the Mavericks clinging to a slim advantage. Murray and JaMychal Green carried the load for Denver in the closing minutes, including Murray hitting a shot from way outside at the buzzer to put Denver up 30-22.

The second quarter started like the first: whole bunch of bricks. For the first four minutes of the quarter each team had to have something close to a 3 to 1 turnover to basket ratio while also managing to score just a bucket each. By the six minute mark the score in the quarter was 7-4 Nuggets and Doncic also appeared to tweak his leg but stayed in the game. Jokic was trying to go to work in the block against Willy Cauley-Stein but was just getting mauled and not getting calls which made him struggle to finish. Still, the Mavericks weren’t doing anything on offense either which meant Denver maintained a near double digit lead. Dallas found life at the end of the half while Jokic picked up a third foul and had to sit. Despite the fact that Denver went small and the Mavericks had resident giant Boban Marjanovic on the floor it didn’t hurt Denver. A Monte Morris three right before the half gave the Nuggets a 52-43 lead at the break.

Jokic looked to be assertive early in the second half and had some success but also picked up his fourth foul. Despite that, Michael Malone elected to leave Joker in. Denver’s two stars were carrying them early in the third while Doncic was gutting out an ankle that clearly was bothering him. Joker looked like he was thoroughly enjoying playing against his friend and went right at Boban time and again to keep the Nuggets lead right around ten. Monte Morris strung together a couple of nice possessions after that to push the lead to a dozen and force Rick Carlisle into a timeout. Dallas regrouped while the Nuggets got sloppy on both ends. The Mavericks climbed back in it and pulled within four points with two minutes to go. Doncic gave Denver everything they could handle to close out the quarter. At the end of the third the Nuggets led 78-76.

The offenses were clicking far better in the second half than in the first. Denver and Dallas traded threes right out of the gate in the fourth. Joker attacked after that while the Nuggets defense tightened up a bit, the game looked like it was headed to a close finish. It quickly became a Jokic vs Doncic show as the quarter progressed. The Mavericks were struggling to defend Nikola without fouling him which led to Denver getting into the bonus with six minutes still to go but Joker was struggling from the line. The Mavericks went on a 7-0 run with the game winding down to take the lead and force Malone into a timeout. Jokic went to work once again and tied the game which was still the case with two minutes to go. Jokic got another trip to the line and again went 1-2 to get Denver a one point lead which they still held with seven seconds to go and the Mavericks with the ball. Denver left Maxi Kleber, who knocked down threes all quarter, wide open from outside and he knocked it down with two seconds to go. Jokic, like the boss that he is, stared Cauley-Stein right in the eye and buried a long two from the corner at the buzzer to force overtime.

Denver’s inability to stop Doncic (and annoyingly Kleber) continued into overtime. Barton got a couple buckets for the Nuggets but a Josh Richardson three gave the Mavericks a five point lead with a minute and a half to go. P.J. Dozier fumbled away the next possession and it was done. Nuggets defense lets them down in the end, Mavericks win 124-117.

Three things I noticed

Best matchup: Luka Doncic vs Gary Harris

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Harris had a strong start against Luka, he played tight defense and the Nuggets rotated well out of their double teams. Doncic also looked like he was bothered by an ankle injury early and that seemed to effect him. Meanwhile Harris had some nice drives to the lane. The second half was a complete opposite story. Denver, Harris included, fell apart on defense and had zero answers for Doncic. He ended up being the difference in the game and was a rebound shy of a triple double

Main thing I noticed: apparently no one read the scouting report

The Mavericks can only beat you from the three point line. The Nuggets know this. They did a good job of addressing that issue in the first half. Then in the second half they just completely forgot the fact. Dallas winds up shooting 40% from three for the game after shooting just 19% in the first half. Kleber ends up with nine points in the game all on three point shots in the fourth quarter. Josh Richardson buried big threes, Dorian Finney-Smith buried big threes, Tim Hardaway Jr hit big threes. It was ridiculously frustrating to watch. The most frustrating thing was the Nuggets showed they are capable of defending well against a team like Dallas in the first half so it’s clearly a matter of effort, not ability.

Closing thought: figure it out

Denver is now 3-5 and four of the five losses are directly related to garbage defense. This team plays too slow to think they can just outscore teams. Too many times their lapses on defense look simply like a lack of caring. Tonight was a perfect example. The Nuggets got up by a dozen in the third and pretty much looked like they figured the game was won. Then when they suddenly found themselves in a game they couldn’t turn it back on again. It’s the same mistakes, different day and it gets really old. Time to figure it out or prepare to be in the play-in tournament in Spring.