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3 things we observed as the Nuggets clobber the Mavericks, 114-104

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The Mavericks looked sluggish out of the break, and the Nuggets flexed their muscles after half time.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks returned to action after the all-star break to face the West’s second best team by record in the Denver Nuggets. Miraculously, the Mavericks were able to take a five point lead after the first quarter and trailed only 52-51 at the half. Rust plagued both teams as the Mavericks shot only 40 percent which was slightly better than the Nugget’s 37 percent clip.

But as good teams normally do, the Nuggets were able to knock off the rust after the first two quarters of play and blitzed the Mavericks out of the half. Denver pumped in 39 points and shot 54 percent from the field in the third frame. Without Luka Doncic (sore ankle) the Mavericks severely lacked the firepower to recover, and the Nuggets beat the Mavericks 114-104. With the loss the Mavericks fall to 26-32.

Here’s what we observed:

The starters not named Jalen struggled

If there’s one thing the Mavericks universe was clamoring for this season, it was more playing time for Kleber and DFS. Well, we got our wish when the Mavericks traded away four-fifths of the starting lineup, but tonight was the kind of game that reminded us to pump the brakes a bit on the not-so-young-but-kind-of-young pieces of the Mavericks future.

Finney-Smith was mostly fine, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds, but he was 0-5 from three. The encouraging aspect of DFS’ night was his ability to impact the game on the glass and his attempts at the line. Kleber was particularly dreadful. His first few shots barely grazed the rim if they weren’t airballs. He basically looked like the Monstars stole all of his powers. He finished 0-5 from the field and 0-4 from three. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued his uneven play with 13 points, shooting 5-12 from the field and 2-6 from three. He contributed only two assists and no rebounds.

If everything goes according to plan, these players (except maybe Finney-Smith) will not be starters, but tonight was discouraging to say the least.

Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell were the bright spots

There wasn’t much to like about this game, but Brunson and Powell are about as good as it gets. Brunson, thrust into the primary initiator role with Doncic out, held up pretty well against a great Nuggets team. He finished the night with career-high 22 points (8-12 from the field and 3-5 from three) and dished five assists. He coughed the ball up six times, but he was also the lead guard for the majority of the game, so it’s forgivable.

Powell had arguably his best game of the season posting a season-high 20 points (on 6-12 shooting) with six rebounds. He was a pest on the boards collecting four offensive rebounds, and his energy stood out in an otherwise lackluster Mavericks’ performance. Honestly, the Mavericks might have lost by 30 if it wasn’t for Powell’s showing.

The game was just ugly

There’s not really any other way to slice it. The first game after the all-star break is typically brutal, but the Luka-less Mavericks looked pitiful. They shot 41 percent from the field and connected on only 10 of the 41 hoisted three-point attempts. The Mavericks were abused on the glass getting out-rebounded 63-42. For further proof of the zaniness of this game, in the first quarter Salah Mejri connected on only his second career three-point attempt:

Mejri finished with four points.

The Mavericks have to shake this loss off quick because they face the Utah Jazz tomorrow in Salt Lake City. Here’s to hoping Doncic’s ankle heals fast.