Luka, Kyrie, and Mavericks show why they could be tough test for Nuggets in playoffs

Denver Nuggets v Dallas Mavericks
Denver Nuggets v Dallas Mavericks / Ron Jenkins/GettyImages

We got the marquee matchup we were hoping for on Sunday as Luka Doncic played through his hamstring injury to lead the Mavericks in action against the Denver Nuggets. Doncic had missed the previous game against the Thunder and came into this one ‘Questionable’.

But Doncic certainly didn’t look injured as he was able to shred the Denver defense to the tune of 37 points and 9 rebounds in 40 minutes. Along with his sidekick, Kyrie Irving, Doncic helped the Mavs to a dramatic 107-105 victory in American Airlines Center.

Kyrie Irving's heroics

Doncic carried the bulk of the scoring load for Dallas, but it was Irving who got hot at the right time and hit an unbelievable running left-handed hook shot over Nikola Jokic to beat the buzzer and win the game for the Mavs.

Irving had 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists, and was able to carry the Dallas offense in spurts, taking just enough weight off Luka’s shoulders. The game-winner was truly an all-timer and would be a difficult H-O-R-S-E shot for most NBA players even without defense. Kyrie is no stranger to heroics, but this one was incredible even by his standards.

Nuggets comeback falls short

The Nuggets battled in this one and never quit. They walked down a 12-point deficit in the final few minutes, even taking an improbable lead on a Jamal Murray three-pointer. But Doncic immediately tied the game with a three of his own, and Irving won it at the horn.

It’s only the second loss for the Nuggets since the All-Star break, and there’s no shame in losing a road game to a good Mavericks team on a buzzer-beater. But still, sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference, the Mavericks are a very realistic first-round playoff opponent for the Nuggets and they didn’t look overly scared of the defending champs.

Dallas poses a threat

Dallas has a lot of size to throw at Nikola Jokic after the trade deadline, between centers Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively, plus bigger forwards in P.J. Washington and Maxi Kleber. The Mavs were able to limit the MVP favorite to just 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists on 6/16 shooting.

Unlike most NBA teams, the Mavericks also have big-game players who can rise in the clutch moments and go toe-to-toe with the Nuggets. Denver has proven their crunch time chops, but Doncic and Irving are an imposing duo to face late in close games.

There will be no easy matchups in the Western Conference playoffs this season. But Sunday was a good exhibition of why some opponents would be tougher than others. Doncic, Irving, and the Mavericks look like a team to avoid if possible.