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Final score: Denver thumps Dallas, 115-110

Despite what ended as a five point advantage, a lethargic Maverick team was thoroughly defeated on the road in Denver.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The Dallas Mavericks allowed 41 points in the first quarter and 68 at the half, in a game they really needed to win but seemed completely unaware of it.

A balanced, fast-paced Denver offense simply shredded the Mavs, who looked surprisingly lethargic on defense and had a serious case of  what I can only describe as "butterfingers" at the offensive end.

27 points from an often-agitated Dirk Nowitzki was not enough.  Once hesitates to over-analyze body language, but Nowitzki looked pretty pissed off at the hustle(or lack thereof) of some of his teammates, though Dirk himself deserves some of the blame for the woeful defensive performance.

Denver, led by Ty Lawson(20 points, 7 assists) and Wilson Chandler(21 points, +14 for the game), took control early and didn't relinquish the lead.  Given the trouble Dallas has had playing the Nuggets in Denver, I get the sense Denver is just a bad matchup for the Mavs.  They run, they attack, and they can score inside and out.  30-36 from the free throw line is hard to overcome, and they tossed in 11-24 from beyond the three-point line on top of all those freebies.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Nets, the Memphis Grizzlies lost, so Dallas didn't lose any ground to 9th place Grizz.  However, the Mavericks have now lost three in a row for the first time all season and their schedule doesn't get any easier, as they go home for two games against the Blazers and Pacers before going to Golden State for the first of a three game road trip.

The final score showed a lead of just five points, but anyone who watched the game knows this was far more of a beatdown than that.  Denver, who had lost their last six, and 11 of their last 12(!), came charging out of the gate with a finally healthy Ty Lawson leading the way.  An Evan Fournier three made it 29-14 with under five minutes left in the first quarter.

After Dallas climbed back to within seven after one period, the Nuggets responded, and once again built their lead back up, reaching 59-40 at one point.  This was the story of the game.  Denver would build a large advantage, Dallas would scratch and claw to get it under double-digits, and then Denver would go on a tear and threaten to make it a laugher again.  Worst of all, there was no one player Dallas could key in on; everyone was getting in on the action for Denver.

In the third, Rick Carlisle opted for a change, replacing Samuel Dalembert(who would play only nine minutes tonight) with little-used Bernard James.  Perhaps Carlisle thought that James' incredible night in Frisco would carry over, but unfortunately, James was about as effective as Dalembert(or Blair).

Dirk would have his best quarter in third, scoring 11 straight for Dallas in an admirable attempt to put the team on his back.  It might have worked, had Dallas done anything of note to stop Denver at the defensive end.  Instead, the Nuggets seemed content to choose between an barely contested layup or an open three nearly every time down the court.

Dallas did manage to make a bit of a run after Dirk checked out, as Denver finally went a little cold, failing to score in the final four and a half minutes of the third quarter.  But, as with every Maverick run, Denver had an answer.  During one particularly stunning two and half minute stretch, J.J. Hickson got five essentially unguarded looks at the rim, helping put together his own personal highlight reel.  The fifth made it a 20 point lead and made the garbage time surge from Dallas too little and certainly much too late.

Some observations:

  • I had mentioned the Nowitzki body language thing before.  I'd be really curious to hear what Dirk had to say after this game.  Dirk looked gassed at times, as Denver puts a lot of quick, athletic, active bigs out there and makes the 35-year-old Nowitzki run a little more than he'd probably like.  He also seemed visibly upset with both the disgracefully slow rotations on defense, and the several "unforced turnovers"(as Jeff Van Gundy put it) from a team that couldn't seem to hang on to the ball tonight.
  • If Dirk's demeanor toward his teammates didn't give an indication of how poorly engaged Dallas was tonight, take Carlisle's post-game comments.  Carlisle was clearly fed up with the center play, in particular, as playing the Sarge card early is maybe the ultimate "statement substitution".
  • The thoroughness of Denver's offensive dominance: more threes, more than three times as many free throws, twice as many offensive rebounds, nearly twice as many fast break points.  Technically, Dallas had more points in the paint, but most of Denver's inside looks were laughably undisturbed, and on the rare occasion when Dallas did actually make an attempt to deny the shot it usually came in the form of a hack foul.
  • 22 of the 33 points Monta Ellis and Vince Carter combined for came after the game had already gotten out of hand and Denver led by 20 halfway through the fourth quarter, so if you take out the garbage time points you have another pretty awful performance from that duo.  Dallas is pretty much dead in the water when those two can't make shots, and both also gave up far too many blow-by's from Denver drivers.  Dallas was toast when one of their bigs had to come off his man and help.
  • Brandan Wright was the team's most effective center, with his best offensive performance in weeks(18 points, 9-13 shooting).  Unfortunately, Wright and Dirk together surrendered back-breaking second chance points that undid what little momentum the team could get going.  And they were the good players.  A single rebound and an assist are all that prove Samuel Dalembert actually played tonight.
Dallas goes home to face the Portland Trailblazers Friday night.  I'll hold out hope that this was a sufficient buttkicking to wake up a few players.  Dallas is nowhere close to through the post-All Star Break gauntlet and if they aren't careful they will find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in very quickly.

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