Experience beats youth as Mavericks run past Nuggets

Dallas 112, Denver 95

After making four trades involving 24 players and eight teams in a 13-month span, Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri finally were able to exhale Monday.

There was a noticeable sense of pride as they talked about their young, talent-laden roster built for the 2011-12 season and beyond.

“With the youth movement we have now, we can say we’re moving in the right direction,” Ujiri said. “We have the best developmental staff. Every NBA team will say it, but I truly believe that everybody who plays here, gets better – past players, present players, guys who have gone elsewhere. We’re excited to see these players get better.”

While the future indeed looks stable and bright, there inevitably will be growing pains along the way.

A matchup against the defending NBA champs was one of those moments.

Playing their first game with newly signed forward Wilson Chandler and newly acquired center JaVale McGee, the Nuggets got a first-hand look at what they aspired to be.

Perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki put on a clinic with 33 points and 11 rebounds, while veteran point guard Jason Kidd had 10 assists in just 25 minutes as Dallas never wavered in a 112-95 victory over the Nuggets at Pepsi Center.

“They’re a championship team and they have an attitude that they’re getting ready for the playoffs,” Denver coach George Karl said. “It was disappointing to play that poorly on our home court, but I hope people realize that Dallas is a pretty good team. We needed to play at a much better level to be successful.”

After celebrating a healthy roster poised to make a playoff push, the Nuggets (25-21) ran into injury problems again against Dallas.

Backup point guard Andre Miller did not return after suffering a right shoulder contusion in the second quarter, and starting forward Danilo Gallinari broke a bone in his left (non-shooting) thumb when he hit it against the backboard midway through the third quarter.

“I tried to play through (the pain), but it was getting worse second-by-second,” Gallinari said. “I didn’t know it was broken, but it hurt a lot.”

Gallinari, who missed 13 games with a sprained left ankle earlier this season, was uncertain how long he would be sidelined.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” he said. “It’s not going to be short. It’s a fracture. The doctor told me the fracture takes four weeks to heal. Hopefully I can put something on and play sooner than that.”

The Nuggets trailed by eight points when Gallinari left the game and cut the deficit to six before the Mavericks closed the third quarter with a 14-6 run. Denver never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.

Though disappointed, the Nuggets tried to keep the loss in perspective.

“We’ve had a lot of changes,” rookie forward Kenneth Faried said. “We’re still trying to figure out the rotation. We’re focused on that right now. As time goes on, we’ll get better. We’ll get smarter and we’re going to come together and make this push.”

Figuring out how to utilize Denver’s depth will be one the biggest challenges over the final 20 games. Karl has a PhD in coaching, but he might need to get certified as a locksmith as he tries to find the right combination on a nightly basis.

McGee started 40 of 41 games and averaged 27.4 minutes for the struggling Washington Wizards before being traded to playoff-contending Denver last week, but he did not play against the Mavericks.

“The game got going the wrong way and I didn’t want to experiment,” Karl said. “Nothing about the kid. The kid’s been great and he’ll play on Wednesday (against Detroit). Hopefully he’ll play well and play a lot of minutes.”

Wednesday marks the conclusion of a nine-game homestand for the Nuggets, who have split the first eight games. Still battling for seeding in the tightly packed playoff chase, they will open a seven-game road trip Friday in Utah.

“As I told the team, I’m excited about what’s going to happen in the next 20 games,” Karl said. “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a challenge. There will be some great games. We’ll be very similar to Dallas tonight. We’re going to get on top of some teams and play well and have some fun playing basketball.”

Notes: Arron Afflalo led Denver with 24 points, while Chandler scored 13 in his first NBA game since last spring … Gallinari had a season-high seven assists before breaking his thumb … The Mavericks (27-20) lost to Denver on Dec. 26 but rallied to win the season series 3-1 … The Nuggets fell to 2-17 when trailing after three quarters this season, including 1-11 at home.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...