The Denver Nuggets just might have Dallas' number.
Going back to the start of the '08-'09 season, and including that year's second round playoff matchup, the Dallas Mavericks are now 8-16 in their last 24 games against the Denver Nuggets. They lose tonight, and for the second straight game against Denver, despite a 22 point effort from Monta Ellis.
The Mavs entered this game undefeated in seven games at home, with Denver 1-4 on the road. Denver had yet to rise above .500 on the season. All that didn't matter, as the Nuggets cruised, never losing a quarter as they steadily built their lead.
Maybe we should have anticipated this. Denver appears stacked with noted Mavericks killers, including Nate Robinson (17 points, 5-9 from field), who went off against Dallas with the Bulls last year, and Randy Foye, who shredded Dallas with the Clippers last year and as a Nugget on Saturday. Let's also not forget Andre Miller, who scored a career high 52 against Dallas as a member of the Trailblazers.
Dallas started out hot, briefly taking a double-digit lead in the first and shooting 63% that quarter; unfortunately, the Nuggets shot ever better, at 71%, and ended up shooting nearly 55% overall in the game. 22 points from J.J. Hickson and 19 from the very impressive Ty Lawson led Denver.
DeJuan Blair started for Dallas in place of Samuel Dalembert (who took what the Dallas broadcast described as a "wicked" shot to the ribs from Marvin Williams against Utah on Friday), but was unable to keep Denver away from the basket, as the Nuggets racked up 48 points in the paint and 28 free throw attempts. Dirk Nowitzki started hot, making 5-6 in the first half, but converted on just 2-9 in the second half, finishing with 18 points. Dirk was the lone starter to finish in the positive in plus/minus on the night.
In the second half, Denver separated, opening with an 8-2 run that gave them a double-digit advantage. Every time Dallas threatened to start a run of their own, Denver responded with rally-stopping threes from Lawson, Foye, and Robinson. That trio of guards burned the Mavs all night, combining for 43 points on 27 shots. Robinson scored 11 straight for Denver midway through the fourth quarter, as the lead swelled to 15.
Dirk missed a few uncontested jump shots, and that proved to be enough to bury the Mavs, who have won most of their contests this year by outshooting opponents.
- Monta Ellis led the way with 22 and his offense was perhaps the lone bright spot for Dallas. By my count, all but two of his made field goals were at the rim, and all but one from inside 12 feet. His ability to get to the rim is elite, and despite his surprising success shooting from midrange so far, his attacking mentality is the most encouraging thing to happen to this franchise since the title, in my view.
- Jose Calderon also shot the ball well, making 3-4 from deep, and on the whole has done a lot of good things this year. However, as has been discussed in the MMB email chains a few times recently, the defensive shortcomings of the Calderon-Ellis duo is simply not going to get it done against quality opponents. As good as both guards(especially Ellis) have looked on offense to start the year, I don't expect any change to be imminent. But I think it's worth keeping in mind.
- Vince Carter has been the resident "crazy shot-taker" since arriving in Dallas, but he may have reached new heights in ill-advised jumpers tonight. I don't mean to sound hypocritical, since I know most of us tolerate his jacking up shots when they go in, but I saw a few too many bad hoists from Vince tonight. Having nothing to base this on aside from watching the games, I wonder if he's completely healthy right now. He seems maybe a step slower this year.
- Jae Crowder hit 2-4 from three tonight, getting a reprieve from a mega-slump. Crowder got most of his time playing alongside Dirk, as did Gal Mekel, who played 10 minutes (compared to Shane Larkin's four). Both were the beneficiary of the "Dirk +/- bump."
- Wayne Ellington got his longest burn since November 1st, and put up an 0-fer with a steal. I'm fine with Carlisle giving him a chance, but so far Ellington is reminding me a bit too much of Dahntay Jones, another veteran guard who came to Dallas with a rep as a quality player and was quickly buried on the depth chart, shooting too poorly to climb his way out.
- Speaking of buried, Bernard James was brushed off and given a season-high eight minutes of game action. He somehow managed to accrue a -14 with 0 shot attempts, along with a single rebound.
After the high of the comeback win against Houston, Dallas must swallow this setback and prepare for Golden State on Wednesday, and another back-to-back Friday and Saturday against the Hawks and Timberwolves. If Dallas isn't careful, they might start December on a serious losing streak.
For more coverage, check out SB Nation's Denver Nuggets blog, Denver Stiffs.