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3 things from the 117-113 Mavericks loss to the Denver Nuggets

The Mavericks troubles continues in Dallas Monday night against the surging Denver Nuggets.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks were back at the American Airlines Center Monday night to host the Denver Nuggets. After dropping four of their last six, three against current non-playoff teams, the Mavericks were looking to hit a quick reset. Tonight’s game, just their sixth home game of the season, kicked off a crucial stretch this week facing three opponents ahead of them in the standings over the course of five games.

This was their second matchup of the season against Nikola Jokic (20 points, 10 rebounds) and the Nuggets, beating Denver in overtime back on Jan. 7. The Nuggets, however, aren’t slumping in the same way they were heading into the first meeting, going 6-2 since the first game.

It was a scoring affair at the tip, with a 38-31 Denver-led first quarter, and Luka Doncic putting up 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the frame (finishing with 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 16 assists). Notably, Willie Cauley-Stein made an appearance back in the starting lineup, with Rick Carlisle opting to go with a two-big look. But the Mavericks simply couldn’t find ways to slow down the Nuggets, with Denver shooting 59-percent from three in the first half. The Mavericks found themselves down 70-58 at the break.

It took a renewed focus to start the second, a Jamal Murray flagrant cup check, and a 16-point Tim Hardaway Jr. third quarter for the Mavericks to wake up. After regaining the lead late in the third, the Mavericks were caught in a back and forth bout. Ultimately it was late-game turnovers, stagnant cold offense, and a 30-point Michael Porter Jr. performance that quickly took them back out of the game.

Here’s what stood out from tonight’s 117-113 loss:

First half defense doesn’t exist

After starting the season with a new defensive presence, the Mavericks are losing footing in the midst of roster turmoil. It is certainly tough to be missing most of the best defenders on the roster, and Carlisle is trying to piece rotations together.

But to give up 70 points in the first half the last two games? You can’t win too many professional basketball contests giving up that kind of volume, and allowing an opponent to be comfortable in their sets. More than just defensive schemes it’s tough currently because the biggest factor is effort. That was made evident in the third when the Mavericks found their way back in through quicker rotations, activity in passing lanes, and staying engaged for a full possession. But playing from behind does no favors to a short handed team with little rest.

It’s going to take time with Porzingis

It’s hard to watch and not feel impatience and the ticking clock of the season as we inch closer to February. Kristaps Porzingis played in his seventh game of the season, and looked out of sorts for long stretches late in the game. With 16 points, six rebounds, and three costly turnovers, the big man rarely looked in rhythm — a tough 6-of-18 from the floor and 1-of-8 from three.

In the waning minutes of a close game, especially with a reduced roster, the Mavericks need to be able to turn to a Doncic-Porzingis two-man game. Checking back in with 2:49 left and the Mavericks down 109-106, Porzingis’ final sequence was as follows: illegal screen (offensive foul turnover, although Doncic contributed to that some by starting his move before Porzingis could get set), 1-of-2 from the free throw line, defensive foul, turnover (bad pass), missed three pointer. That’s a tough stretch of basketball in a close game. Carlisle went to that two-man game and it was rather fruitless.

The final two minutes wasn’t all on Porzingis, but as a focal point late it’s disappointing. It also hurt that Porzingis missed all three of his shots to start the fourth quarter with Doncic on the bench. With the Mavericks roster out of sorts, they badly need their supporting star. But for a variety of reasons, that’s going to take time.

Fourth quarter production

After a fantastic third that saw new energy and grabbing the lead, the Mavericks were absent for much of the fourth. The Denver Nuggets to their credit came out swinging to start the final quarter. But there was just zero rhythm or effort from Dallas’ end, and they simply can’t afford that.

The Mavericks are currently 17th in the league in fourth quarter scoring, averaging 26.4 points. Tonight’s 19-point effort in the final frame simply won’t cut it. Perhaps most of the Mavericks troubles on both ends can solely be chalked up to unfortunate setbacks due to COVID-19. Either way, for the Mavericks to turn things around they’ll need better effort late.

There’s no rest for the weary, as the Mavericks hit the road to face Utah back-to-back, starting Wednesday.

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.