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3 things we observed as the Mavericks fumble the game away and lose 107-106

Dallas was fine for most of the game but let the clutch time demons haunt them again.

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

After taking care of the Bulls Monday night, the Mavericks received a stiff test against the Denver Nuggets. Dallas picked up where they left off Monday and started strong. Led by Dwight Powell’s energy on both ends, the Mavericks were able to take a 32-37 lead after one. Powell led the way with eight points (3-of-3 shooting) and held Nikola Jokic to zero points.

Denver picked it up in the second quarter, and the Mavericks defense provided little resistance. Fortunately, the Mavericks’ offense picked up some slack and outshot the Nuggets from the floor, 56 percent to 52 percent. Dallas maintained a slim 59-56 lead into the half.

The third quarter was all about the stars as Luka Doncic and Jokic traded buckets throughout the quarter. While Doncic struggled from deep, he pressured the rim at will with no real shot blocker on the floor and pumped in 12 points in the quarter On the other end, Jokic powered through Maxi Kleber’s defense, as Mike Malone dialed up continous Jokic post ups until he found a groove from deep. He connected on four threes on his way to 21 third quarter points. However, the Mavericks were able to maintain a lead, taking an 89-86 advantage into the fourth.

After Maxi Kleber connected on four straight points to open the fourth, he missed two consecutive triples and gave up a few buckets to Mason Plumlee letting the Nuggets respond with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 93 all. After Denver took a 97-96 lead, Carlisle subbed Doncic in with 7:21 remaning helping to steady the tide. Shortly after Malone put Jokic back on the floor, and it was game on toward the finish line.

However, the final six minutes of play was terrible offensive basketball from the Mavericks (see below). Sloppy play, poor shot selection and failure to execute resulted in a weak finish, and Dallas undoubtedly deserved to lose the game. Led by Jokic’s 33 points, six rebounds and seven assists, Denver beat Dallas 107-106. The Mavericks were paced by Doncic’s 27 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.

Here are some notes:

The Mavericks struggled to get around ball screens

It doesn’t help that Jokic is a behemoth, but the Mavericks’ guards even ran into several Plumlee screens which sprung the Denver ball handlers into wide open spaces. We know the Mavericks defensive strategy on screens is conservative, and it becomes an achilles heel against the team like the Nuggets that sets high ball screens which allows players like Jamal Murray a full head of steam at a flat-footed Dallas big man. And it’s why a player like Boban Marjanovic didn’t even sniff the floor. While Jokic dominated as a pure superstar, Plumlee benefitted from Dallas’ conservative strategy collecting a few offensive rebounds, and garnering a few easy buckets on his way to 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

Dallas faltered down the stretch

Josh wrote about the Mavericks struggles in the clutch, and it reared it’s ugly head tonight. With the game tied at 100 and 6:41 remaining, the Mavericks wound up shooting 2-for-9 from the field while committing a ghastly four turnovers. Four of the nine shots were from behind the arc ,and two of them came off offensive rebounds. If we want to get technical, the Mavericks were 2-for-8 with three turnovers in the clutch. That’s horrible, inexcusable late game execution that is beginning to become a pattern. And on the last Mavericks defensive possession, out of a timeout , Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith inexplicably failed to communicate a screen, forcing Finney-Smith onto Jokic which resulted in a predictable bucket.

As teams begin to zero in on Doncic, the team has to figure out a solution. Doncic has a penchant for settling for step-back triples, and the other players have shown an inability to create without him. This is a problem, and it’s likely not going away any time soon.

Dallas was beat in the little things

Aside from the grotesque final six minutes, the Mavericks’ offense was actually pretty good. For the entire game they shot 50 percent from the field and made three more triples than the Nuggets. The Dallas reserves even outscored Denver’s reserves 35-31! But scan the team stats and see the Mavericks missed eight free throws and lost by one point. Go further and see the Mavericks allowed the Nuggets to score 19 points off turnovers and lost by one point. Those are punches to the gut considering the Mavericks led for the majority of the game.

After starting the season 21-10, the Mavericks have lost four of six and desperately need Kristaps Porzingis back and healthy. Next up is the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.