In less than 48 hours, the Denver Nuggets went from flying high to crashing and burning. A two-game losing streak can do that to a team, especially coming off four straight wins.
Denver lost two very winnable games at Atlanta and New Orleans and now has to be ready for the Dallas Mavericks, who are in town for a Tuesday night matchup.
Dallas is looking for a little payback against the Nuggets, who stole a game from the Mavericks in Dallas despite missing Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon in the 98-97 victory. That kick-started a four-game skid for the Mavericks, but they’ve bounced back to win three of their last four.
Denver has those three back but might be without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (wrist). Michael Porter Jr. (heel) is already ruled out for Tuesday night, but Jeff Green (knee) is likely to return to action.
The injuries have forced head coach Michael Malone to shuffle his lineups, which has had an impact on the bench play. Reserves have been thrust into the starting lineup and there has been a lack of consistency from the bench.
It was evident in the loss to the Pelicans on Sunday afternoon when New Orleans’ bench outscored the Nuggets’ second unit 62-18.
“That unit has struggled most of the year, and I take responsibility for that,” Malone said. “Not finding a way to get those guys to play together, to play the right way, and most importantly, just to have some success.”
If Green returns, he will bolster the reserve unit, but it goes deeper than just getting bodies back.
“It’s simple,” Ish Smith said. “You just got to defend, play hard every single night. … When you do that, you can sleep at night.”
Dallas comes into Tuesday night after beating Phoenix 130-111 on Monday night, the second game in a row it has won in a rout. The Mavericks will be playing their seventh game in the last 11 days.
The tough schedule didn’t seem to slow down Luka Doncic, who had 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the rout of the Suns, and he did it while playing three quarters. Head coach Jason Kidd sat him for the last 12 minutes after Dallas built a big lead.
That bodes well for him and the Mavericks heading into Tuesday’s matchup with Denver.
“This is the second back-to-back where we gave him the fourth quarter off,” Kidd said after the win over Phoenix. “(Monday) we gave him the fourth quarter off. Hopefully, he’s fresh to go (Tuesday).”
Doncic has played 29 minutes in each of the last two games, well below his season average of 36.8 minutes per night. He has played 40-plus minutes in six games this season.
The Nuggets held Doncic in check the last time the teams played, but couldn’t contain him in the first game. He had 33 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in the 28-point Dallas win on Nov. 18. He followed that with a near triple-double of 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists two nights later.