The Dallas Mavericks got a boost in depth on Monday night when J.J. Barea returned to the lineup for their matchup with the Denver Nuggets. It was a much-needed positive for Dallas, which has been in need of some good news as of late. Despite that boost, however, the Mavs were outgunned 117-107 by a young Denver team featuring a starting five that simply shot the lights out all night long.
Both teams shot well, but the Nuggets were just a little bit better, shooting 57 percent from the field and 13-24 from three. They were also 14-18 from the line, and out-assisted (32-21), out-rebounded (40-30), and outscored the Mavs on both the fastbreak (16-5) and in the paint (52-46).
In short, the Nuggets won on every front, and the Mavs just couldn’t keep up.
The Mavs, meanwhile, shot 53 percent from the floor, and 56 percent from downtown on Monday, with Deron Williams leading the team in scoring with 23 points and eight assists. Harrison Barnes had a solid 19 points on 9-15 shooting, with Seth Curry scoring 14, and Dwight Powell adding 11 points and nine boards.
There were solid scoring numbers from Dallas, but their biggest weapon over the last few weeks, Wesley Matthews, had another cold night as he continues to try and regain his form from earlier in the month.
“They just wore us down as the game went on,” Williams said. “We battled, but we just couldn’t outlast them.”
A big reason for the Nuggets success against the Mavs was the balance on the offensive end of the floor from their starters, with all five scoring in double figures, including Gary Harris (24) and Emmanuel Mudiay (18). Nikola Jokic was the biggest contributor to that success, finishing one assist shy of a triple-double with 27 points, 15 rebounds and nine dimes. It was the second straight game against Dallas that Jokic has dominated the Mavs on the interior, showing just how much the Mavs are missing Andrew Bogut's presence on the defensive end of the floor.
Bogut, when healthy, provided a stabilizing force on the Mavs interior that they have lacked in previous years, and his absence has been damaging. Since his injury the Mavs have been consistently out rebounded and soft defensively in the middle, leading to some extremely frustrating losses, most notably in games against the Pistons and Jazz.
Though this was a tough one for the Mavs, their was a silver lining in the loss that should provide Mavs fans with a little bit of excitement… The return of Barea.
“It felt good,'' JJB said, "I missed it. I was excited before the game. I didn’t know how I was going to feel out there, but it felt good to be out there with my teammates.''
While Barea’s appearance was short -- just 13 minutes of game time while on a minutes limit, part of what coach Rick Carlisle called "The Dallas Mavericks Recovery Boutique,'' with the rehabbing Dirk Nowitzki also involved there -- he looked as dangerous as ever, scoring 11 points with three assists and three boards, providing a substantial boost in energy during the time he was on the floor. Mavs fans might forget how solid Barea was before he went down to a calf injury, averaging over 16 points and five assists per game.
If the Mavs want to inch toward turning this thing around, inserting Barea back into the lineup will go a long way to achieving that goal. When healthy Barea is one of the best offensive weapons that Carlisle has in his arsenal. His speed and quickness is a pain for opposing defenders, and he can score from almost anywhere on the floor. The more progress he makes returning from this injury, the better the Mavs chances will be at salvaging this season.
Monday night’s loss dropped the Mavs to 7-21 and 1-13 overall on the road. With four-straight road matchups on the horizon, the Mavs will need to find a way to stop the bleeding quickly, or they risk falling even farther down into the NBA’s basement.
Dallas will look to begin that turnaround against a struggling-yet-dangerous Portland Trailblazers squad that has lost six of its last seven games, including a 45-point beat down at the hands of the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Portland is led by the dynamic backcourt combination of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who combine for 49.4 points per. In their previous meeting, Lillard torched the Mavs for 42 points on 12-18 shooting in a 105-95 Blazers win at the American Airlines Center.
The Mavs are hopeful the Barea will be able to give Wednesday night’s matchup a go in Portland (a 9 p.m. CT tip), but that decision will be left of the trainers and J.J.’s body.
“It was fun again,” Barea said. “I felt better than I thought I was going to feel, so I was able to help my team. Hopefully I keep getting better.”