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3 observations as the Dallas Mavericks down Denver Nuggets, 111-101

The Mavs first victory against a .500 team couldn’t have come at a better time.

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

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Denver Nuggets in Dallas by a score of 111-101. Kristaps Porzingis was the high point man in Dallas, scoring 29. Nikola Jokic scored 35 in defeat for Denver.

To kick off what looks like Dallas’ toughest stretch of their young season, the Mavs took advantage of a worn out Nuggets team for their first victory over a team with a winning record. It’s true Denver just played last night, but in their dismantling of the Trail Blazers, none of their starting five played more than 29 minutes. This was as fresh a “back to back” team as any team is likely to face, although this was also the Nuggets third game in four nights and the team was shorthanded.

That said, Dallas took care of business, led in scoring by Kristaps Porzingis, who scored 29 points on a 5-of-8 night from behind the arc. It’s a continuation of good shooting from the big man coming off of an impressive night against San Antonio.

For Denver, it was of course reigning MVP Nikola Jokic doing most of the damage, pouring in 35 points for the Nuggets. Despite the deluge from Jokic, it’s a good sign that Dallas was able to make him a minus-1 on the night. It’s not so much indicative of Jokic’s play, which was great all night, but that the Dallas starting five largely held their own against Denver’s starters, who — at least when they’re at full strength — are among the best in the league.

Porzingis in a rhythm

The Mavericks offense was in a tough spot during Kristaps Porzingis’ five game absence early this season. Brunson emerged as a bright spot, but much of the same Luka-or-nothing bad habit from last season began to creep in without Porzingis out there as a scoring outlet. Add in learning Kidd’s new system, and there was clearly room to improve.

Improve they have, and Kristaps has been a huge part of that, and no more than tonight against Denver. He’s scored 20-plus in four of the five games he’s played since his return, and he was Dallas’ leading scorer for just the second time this season, and the first time in a winning effort.

Porzingis made some nice mid range buckets when the need arose, but he did a ton of damage both inside the lane and beyond the arc. It’s one thing to be effective against a Spurs team that was paper-thin in the front court, and quite another to do the same against an MVP caliber player in Nikola Jokic, even if the Nuggets are coming off a back to back. Porzingis looking like his bubble self is a welcome sight for anyone sweating Dallas’ scoring efficiency.

4th quarter gas

Dallas started the game absolutely on fire. Everyone was scoring, Porzingis and Luka were hot early, and they poured in 35 in the frame. It seemed like a game that was going to be a race to 120. Imagine the whiplash, then, when they followed that up with a measly 14 point second quarter. Luka also earned himself a tech walking off the court at half time, just to make sure any remnants of good first quarter vibes were completely dead before the second half.

Call it a great half time adjustment, call it shooting variance, call it Denver paying three games in four nights; whatever it was, Dallas came out of the tunnel to start the third, determined not to let this game slip away. A solid third set Dallas up for an overwhelming finish, as Dallas’ blitzed Denver 32-18 to close out the game. A good portion of the credit for the hot finish belongs to Tim Hardaway Jr. After going 0-of-5 from three against San Antonio, and opening this game 0-for-2, Hardaway was an absolute flamethrower in the fourth, shooting 5-of-8 including two threes. With Porzingis and Doncic setting a consistent scoring floor, Hardaway’s hot finish propelled the team to a relatively comfortable double digit win after what looked like it might be a 48 minute nail biter.

Role reversal

Coming into this game, Denver was a top ten team in scoring on the fast break while Dallas was one of the worst teams in the league, coming in at 27th. Tonight, though, the tables were turned. Dallas managed 23 points on the fast break compared to Denver’s 19. The Mavs are the best in the league at avoiding turnovers, and they only had eight tonight, which helped the cause.

Dallas’ 30 assists also bested Denver’s 20. Again, an area where the Nuggets rank in the top ten in the league, but tonight, everything was working for Dallas on offense. The 30 assists tonight matches Dallas second-best night in passing this season, second only to the 31 assists they managed in an opening night loss to Atlanta.

Dallas was lucky to catch the Nuggets when they did, but anytime you can catch a contender on their heels, it’s imperative the team is able to take advantage, and tonight, Dallas did.

Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.