On a freezing cold night at Ball Arena on Wednesday, the Denver Nuggets caught fire in the second quarter, screaming past the Dallas Mavericks to cap off a scorching hot month at home as we turn our attention to the All-Star break.
Denver simply would not be denied as the Mavericks scrambled to match their tenacity and creativity inside. The only Denver Nugget on the All-Star roster Nikola Jokic continues to elevate his game while helping lock down the number one seed in the West for the Mile High City heading into the ASG.
Denver has become an offensive juggernaut under the Western Conference player of the month’s watchful eye. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone will be joining Jokic in Salt Lake and again showed the type of game plan he can put together to take down the Mavs even without contributors like Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon.
Look no further than Michael Porter Jr. as the lifeblood of the Denver offense while Murray and Gordon rest. Porter Jr. came out aggressive against the Mavs, swishing home a couple threes and showing balance on his patient drives to the basket early on. MPJ’s 10 points led all Nuggets scorers in the first quarter. Vlatko Cancar followed the Missouri product’s lead and showed why Malone trusts him with big filler minutes.
Christian Braun is slowly coming on for the Nuggets after they waived goodbye to Bones Hyland and could be a key component in Denver’s surge into the playoffs. Denver is going through growing pains with Braun and offseason acquisition Bruce Brown, who started at point guard for the injured Murray but looked clunky in an exchange with Jokic at one point that led to a turnover and air-balling a three. Luckily veteran Ish Smith stays ready to play and has picked up his game since seeing added minutes with the loss of Murray.
Denver’s mid-range game was on point, as they constantly attacked the Mavs from easy spots around the key. Jeff Green’s confidence kicked into high-gear in the second quarter, as he stuck a patent chase-down block against the backboard and nailed a rare three, causing Dallas to call a time out. Thomas Bryant came alive in his matchup with Dwight Powell and didn’t shy away from taking big shots. Bryant’s rebounding was a big reason the Nuggets were able to pull away before half.
Luka Doncic showed off his well-rounded game with Kyrie Irving on the mend. Doncic ripped off 21 points in the first half and continued to give Denver headaches as the motor to Dallas’ offensive machine, chipping in three rebounds and three assists as well.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope checked into the contest a little late to start the second half, but got cooking immediately upon his re-entrance to the game. Snubbed from the three-point contest at All-Star weekend, KCP improved on his league-leading 45 percent marksmanship from deep so far with another three snipes on four three-point shots. The 29 year-old guard also drew a savvy shooting foul on Reggie Bullock after a nifty steal and spin towards the basket with 6:41 left to go in the third.
Jeff Green continued to find his groove in the third quarter, flashing into the paint and scoring with ease on a steal. This could be the game that gets Green going again after battling injury and inconsistency throughout much of the first 59 games of the season. Uncle Jeff will be counted on heavily as the 2023 campaign dwindles down and the Nuggets focus on playoff rotations.
The second unit for Denver showed their ability to defend, rebound, get out and run. Outscoring the Mavs 16-2 at one point in the third quarter, the Nuggets got some boom from the bench and Jeff Green led the way. The Mavericks continued their trend of putrid play in the paint and Denver started to pour it on late, using the opportunity to get Thomas Bryant comfortable with his new team. Bryant’s determination and confidence among the trees will make a lot of noise in relief of Jokic.
Denver would relax a bit in the fourth quarter and the Mavericks would take advantage, knocking down back-to-back threes and converting a three-point play thanks to veteran center Christian Wood, but the burgundy and gold made sure to strike when they need to. Michael Malone took a timeout at 8:51 and the Nuggets would not look back, going with their bread and butter back-to-back MVP along with some final contributions from Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Michael Porter Jr.
The Nuggets will hit the road following the All-Star break and turn their attention to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been giving teams fits since acquiring Donovan Mitchell in the offseason. Mitchell sat out the game against the Nuggets here at Ball Arena on January 6th but Denver surely won’t be as lucky this time around after resting for the All-Star interlude.