The Dallas Mavericks were poised to make a statement Sunday in Denver, but the athletic and physical Denver Nuggets were at their best, without their best. Floor-leader Chauncey Billups had a casual day at the gym (6 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 rebounds) as the Nuggets stifled the Mavs' hot start 109-95.
Nowitzki and the Mavericks jumped out to a 24-16 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Dirk Nowitzki started 6-for-6 from the field, ending 12-for-22 with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
As the game carried on, the Nuggets stayed the course with physical aggressive play that ultimately wore down the Mavs' focus.
If Dallas plans to get back in the series, they are going to have to protect the basketball and get to the charity stripe. The Mavs' assist-to-turnover ratio was 17:20—that's right, 17:20 (minus three). As if that wasn't enough of a handicap, the Mavs were only able to shoot 9-for-13 from the free-throw line.
In comparison, Denver's assist-to-turnover ratio was 28:13 (plus 15) and they made the most of the sloppy ball-handling, shooting 25-for-36 from the stripe.
It's not like Dallas wasn't trying to get to line, it was just another inspired defensive performance by the Nuggets. Energy player Chris Andersen continued to set the tone with six official blocks, which ultimately affected any aggression Dallas had taking the ball to the rack.
It is worth mentioning that Josh Howard left the game midway through the second quarter after rolling his right ankle. Howard, who was already nursing a sore left ankle, returned before the half.
It was clear that he was nowhere near himself. He is the one of the few real athletes Dallas has, so this is a monumental blow if he cannot recover before Tuesday. Howard had been playing his best basketball since the Mavs appeared in the 2006 NBA Finals.