(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets just continue to roll as they matched their season-high for consecutive wins with a, 98-88, win over the Mavericks to extend their current win streak to four games.
In the first quarter, the Nuggets were very aggressive attacking the basket early, which was good, but they built their twelve point lead going into the second off of torrid shooting from the three-point arch and great defensive rebounding. Carmelo, Kenyon, and Chauncey all hit treys in the first quarter and Nene was doing a great job putting a body on Eric Dampier on his way to five first quarter boards. Defensively, I especially like the effort by the Nuggets on the perimeter as they held the Mavericks to just 25% shooting on 6-24 attempts through twelve minutes. Also, and because it's not going to show up in the boxscore, I thought Kenyon Martin did a fantastic job on Dirk defensively in the sense that he aggressively challenged all five of Nowitzki's shot attempts while only sending Dirk Nowitzki to the free-throw line once for a pair of free-throws.
The second quarter brought in the second unit plus 'Melo for the Nuggets and the energy they brought kept the Mavericks at bay, 40-29, through the first six minutes of the quarter. The Birdman made his presence felt by blocking a Jose Barea shot attempt on a drive, J.R. Smith provided a quick six points, and Linas Kleiza's defense was solid despite LK still slumping offensively.
Unfortunately, the burst that the second unit brought in the first six minutes of the second quickly faded as Chris Andersen picked up his third foul and Linas was pulled after only scoring one point on a single made free-throw. With the Nuggets going a little stale, Dallas was able to whiddle the lead down to five as Denver's starters re-entered the game. But, once Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chauncey were on the floor with J.R. Smith the Nuggets quickly re-established a nine-point lead after Carmelo was the beneficiary of back-to-back Billups' dimes.
Then Dallas coach Rick Carlisle made the grave mistake of leaving Eric Dampier out of the game when Nene returned and the Big Brazilian quickly took advantage of the undersized Dallas frontline, and Brandon Bass more specifically, for five quick points within a span of 26 seconds to maintain Denver's nine point lead before Kenyon Martin hit his second three of the half followed by a spectacular tip by J.R. Smith to give the Nuggets a, 56-43, advantage at intermission.
The true story behind the Denver lead at the half wasn't the hot three-point shooting or Carmelo's 20 first half points, but rather the tremendous job the Nuggets were doing on the defensive end. Kenyon Martin did about as good of a job as you can do on a pure scorer like Dirk by limiting Nowitzki to just nine points on 3-9 shooting while collectively the Mavericks shot just 28.9% from the field for the half. And Kenyon wasn't acting alone as the only Maverick to reach double figures in scoring was Jose Barea with ten points off of mostly long contested jump shots. Furthermore, the end result of Denver's pesky defense also gave them a 16-7 advantage in fastbreak points with nine of those points coming by way of the Nuggets forcing nine Dallas turnovers.
Often times you will hear that the first five minutes of the second half hold the outcome of the game and after Dirk Nowitzki opened up the third with ten straight points it was clear the Mavericks weren't going to just lay down on the home floor. What was once a 13 point lead at the half quickly became just three with under eight minutes still to play in the third as the Nuggets offense completely stalled. The jump shots that were falling in the first half stopped connecting, the number of cuts through the lane screeched to a halt, and defensively the Nuggets stalled when the ball stopped moving on the other end of the floor.
The game tied at 65 a piece before Carmelo put the Nuggets back on top with a three from the right corner with just under four minutes and the energy implemented by George Karl going to Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter, and Linas Kleiza was palpable as Denver surged ahead to enter the fourth quarter leading by four, 75-71.
Once the fourth quarter started, the stale air that engulfed the Nuggets in the third quickly evaporated. Linas Kleiza picked up right where his three in the closing seconds of the third left off with a junior hook in the lane, J.R. Smith hit a long jumper and a three on back-to-back possessions, and Anthony Carter connected on a field goal to give the Nuggets a 13-point lead, 84-71, after just over a two minutes of play in the quarter.
At this point, the Mavericks were on the ropes and after J.R. drew a charge on Dirk, a call that caused Nowitzki to say something to an offical and land a technical foul, Smith was at the line making good on a technical free-throw, followed by another jumper, and a drive right around Nowitzki to cap off a 14-2 run to give Denver an, 89-73, lead. Jason Terry counter punched with back-to-back three's to bring the Denver lead back down to ten with over seven minutes to play, but both teams struggled to score over the next three minutes before Jason Kidd finally etched his name in the boxscore with two free-throws. The next time down the floor Nene drew a foul maneuvering to the basket on Jason Kidd to earn and make two from the charity tripe to put the Nuggets back up by ten and after J.R. Smith nailed his second three of the fourth quarter the white flag of surrender was shimmied up the pole in front of the American Airlines Arena.
J.R. Smith's performance in the second half was just as good as Carmelo's in the first. 'Melo poured in the aforementioned 20 points in the first, but it was J.R.'s 17 points in the second, many in clutch situations, that preserved the W for Denver. Without his spark of ten of the 14 points to jumpstart the fourth quarter this game could have easily been far more difficult for the Nuggets to win after Dirk pumped new life into the Mavs in the third quarter. However, J.R. was just the shot in the arm the Nuggets needed to hold the Mavericks down and his 25 points and five rebounds were invaluable.
Carmelo added the big three in the third to break the game's only tie at 65 all, but they were his only points in the second half. Anthony finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.
The Denver Nuggets are now 17-7 overall, 16-4 since acquiring Chauncey Billups, and this win gives Denver their fourth-straight win on the road and extends their current win streak to four games marking the second time this season they have won four in a row. Up next is the heal click of this Texas two-step when Denver travels to Houston to take on the Rockets tomorrow night at the Toyota Center.