DALLAS – The mistakes were self-inflicted, each turnover more debilitating than the last.
Ultimately, the Nuggets couldn’t get out of their own way, falling 103-89 to the Mavericks in frustrating, atypical fashion. No number was more telling than Denver’s 26 turnovers, the primary culprit in snapping Denver’s three-game winning streak.
And no starter, Nikola Jokic included, was guilt-free. Jokic had three turnovers, along with 27 points and 16 rebounds. Will Barton turned it over seven times, and every other starter had at least two miscues.
“I thought we dribbled too much,” acting Nuggets head coach Popeye Jones said. “Obviously too much one-on-one. I tried to tell them at halftime, a good defensive team, they’re always going to guard your first action, maybe your second action. You gotta get to your third action … You gotta try to keep energy in the ball.”
The Mavericks converted those mistakes into 28 points, undermining any shot Denver had of stealing one on the road. Aaron Gordon, with 15 points and seven rebounds, was one of the few bright spots.
So was Bones Hyland, who added seven points and six rebounds off the bench in his return from the NBA’s health and safety protocols. But he was also bit by the turnover bug.
“I thought he knew more of the playbook maybe than what he knew,” Jones said.
Hyland didn’t agree with that assessment, explaining he knew it, but was more comfortable when playing one of the guard positions. On Monday, he was forced to play some three.
As for the turnovers, Hyland chalked them up to laziness.
“I don’t think we followed the game plan,” Hyland said, in reading and reacting to Dallas’ double-teams on Jokic.
Dallas sensation Luka Doncic dominated with 21 points and 15 assists, even though his shooting numbers were uncharacteristically off.
The first turnover came only moments before tip-off, when the Mavericks announced coach Michael Malone, and not the fill-in Jones, as Denver’s head coach. It only went downhill from there.
Jokic carried Denver’s stagnant offense in the third quarter. With soft touch shots around the rim balanced with a confident 3-point game, Jokic chiseled away at Dallas’ lead. He had 11 points in the quarter alone. Both Barton and Facu Campazzo aided the cause with supplementary 3-pointers. After Campazzo’s corner triple, Doncic tossed a few words in the direction of his former Real Madrid teammate.
Though the Nuggets did an admirable job individually on Doncic, he picked apart Denver with his vision. Doncic’s brilliance gave the Mavericks a 69-63 lead heading into the fourth.
Making their comeback attempt even harder, Vlatko Cancar was carried off the court late in the third with an apparent right foot injury.
Denver’s lone reinforcement arrived barely two hours before Monday’s game after Hyland cleared protocols. It was a welcome sight for a team whose backcourt had been dwindling.
“We’ll play him in three- to four-minute stints and see how he feels, but the thing about Bones, as you guys know, he’s a confident kid,” Jones said. “He’s like, ‘I’m ready coach. However long you want me to play.’”
Following Saturday’s win over the Rockets, Jones was bullish about his team’s prospects.
“We’re just here to win,” Jones said. “I think the biggest thing right now, the MVP’s really locked in. We have him. He had a heck of a workout yesterday. Probably worked harder than anybody.”
Jokic carried that energy into the first half, where he registered a team-high 12 points and eight rebounds, but it didn’t trickle down the roster. The Nuggets played a sloppy brand of basketball, undermined by 14 turnovers. As a result, the Mavericks carried a 46-37 lead into the break.
Gordon provided a boost with physical and assertive play, bullying his way to 10 first-half points. But Denver’s offensive cadence was disrupted with the turnovers, many of which were their own doing.
Whether it was dribbling into traffic or forcing the ball into tight windows, the Nuggets made Monday’s effort against a quality opponent even harder on themselves.