The Denver Nuggets coughed up 39 points in the first quarter to the Dallas Mavericks and could not recover, falling 122-105 in Dallas. Will Barton had 23 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, while Gary Harris and Jamal Murray had another 43 points combined. Unfortunately Denver let Dallas shoot 57% from the field, led by 22 from Harrison Barnes and another 20 from Dennis Smith Jr. Even a double-double from Faried couldn’t hope to make up the difference.

Dirk Nowitski opened the scoring with a three that was answered by Murray. Murray then fouled Dirk in what was a basically terrible defensive rotation. Faried had a great dunk attempt blocked and the Mavericks took the turnover on an early fast break. Wilson Chandler missed his first two shot attempts back from injury while Faried fouled Wes Matthews on a three, and that free throw made it 11-3 Dallas early.

Faried's hustle on the glass helped keep Denver's possession alive for another Murray three, though, as Denver tried to stay close with its starters. The loose coverages and unwillingness to challenge screens put Denver down 21-8 with less than 5 minutes gone. Jamal Murray hit another three as the only Nugget who was keeping Denver in it.

Plumlee bricked shots and free throws while Dallas continued to obliterate the Nuggets from the three point line and in transition. Hack a Plumlee actually started in the quarter and Denver had to take him out, while Dallas kept killing the Nuggets in the paint. Denver was 4-of-18 and had 12 points through the first 9 minutes but Barton's efforts and a Juancho Hernangomez three helped them finish down only 39-23.

Denver missed its first two shots and then Juancho was called for a foul on what looked like a steal that instead became a Dallas 3. Dallas got anything it wanted, opening on a 9-0 run. A nifty Barton-to-Chandler-to-Faried break for a layup broke that streak, and Barton's three brught it back to 50-28. 

Murray twisted his ankle but stayed in the game briefly to hit a layup before being replaced by Malik Beasley. The effort level went up halfway through the second, but Chandler's 0-for-8 in the first half typified Denver's shotmaking.  Still, a Faried dunk brought it to 58-38 despite shooting just 30.2% from the floor to that point. Faried hit a hook shot and Harris swished a three to make it a 15 point deficit. Dennis Smith Jr. hurt Denver in the paint and Harrison Barnes kept the lead from getting smaller, though, and Dallas led 64-47 at halftime.

Denver came out with a smaller lineup featuring Faried at the 5, and Kenneth made the first two baskets of the quarter for Denver. He wasn’t stopping anyone in the paint, but the effort was there. Then Matthews kicked Jamal Murray in the groin “accidentally” and Murray’s free throws brought Denver back to within 14 at 71-57. Smith Jr. and Murray traded buckets, and Barton hit a measured 3 to make it an 11 point deficit. Barton held up his scoring end with 13 points in the quarter while the Dallas guards continued to abuse Denver’s centers inside to the tune of 50 points in the paint through 3 quarters. The Nuggets couldn’t get the deficit to single digits until a Barton 3 with two minutes to go in the period. Despite spirited play down the stretch, though, the Nuggets trailed by 11 after 3, 93-82.

The Mavericks came out on an 8-2 run with some iffy finishes and calls on Denver, but back-to-back threes from Trey Lyles and Harris pulled it back to an 11-point deficit. Devin Harris had a couple of plays that really hurt Denver, and Barea’s three pointer made in 110-95, Dallas with six minutes to go. Emmanuel Mudiay answered back with a triple of his own, and then he finished a fast break off a Lyles block cut it to 10. The Dallas guards kept pounding the paint with layups and finishes, though, and then those same guards buried threes to bury Denver. The final score was 122-105 in a blowout that the Nuggets could not afford.

Final thoughts

  • Denver’s guards did what they could offensively. Will Barton, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray combined for 66 points in this game; there’s not a lot more Denver can reasonably ask of them. Defensively they did not contain the ball-handler, but Denver struggled with that all last year as well. Whether it’s scheme or personnel, Denver lets opposing ball-handlers have their way. In a score-fest, though, Denver’s guards pitched in.
  • Denver’s forwards did not. Wilson Chandler’s shot was off all game – understandable given his recent back issues and missed time. But 1-of-11 in 26 minutes just didn’t cut it in a game where Denver needed extra scoring help. Lyles and Juancho combined for 12 points in 28 minutes, and that just wasn’t enough. Plumlee’s 3 points in 19 minutes didn’t help either, but the Nuggets will have a tough time winning a game on the road if they play defense like this and can’t get scoring up and down the lineup to offset it. Speaking of which…
  • Denver’s defense was basically terrible. The Mavericks scored 39 points in the first and were 20+ points over their season average for the game, while shooting 57% from the field. Most of those shots were near the rim, with 64 points in the paint, but they also shot 46% from deep. Denver turned the 6-win Mavericks into the Houston Rockets for a night, and those are the sorts of things Denver cannot do if they hope to have any success on this road trip.

This was the game Denver really needed on this road trip. All the other games are against tougher opponents, so the Nuggets will have to buckle down and focus on basics if they want to avoid disaster over the next 12 days. Hopefully Nikola Jokic’s ankle keeps mending quickly, because Denver sorely needs him – no pun intended.

Here’s coach Michael Malone’s post-game sound: