Any doubt about the quality of the Dallas Mavericks’ bench was loudly put to rest Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center.
With starters Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo sitting out the second night of a back-to-back, the Mavs put up a gallant effort before losing to the Denver Nuggets 114-107 at the Pepsi Center.
Give the Mavs’ bench credit for keeping Dallas in a game many thought Dallas had no chance at winning. The Mavs’ reserves outscored their Denver counterparts by a whopping 62-29.
And that’s not counting the 27 combined points they received from Richard Jefferson, Raymond Felton and Greg Smith, who were thrust into the starting lineup.
“The bench came out and played hard and everybody stepped up that didn’t play much lately,” said J.J. Barea, who scored a team-high 17 points off the bench. “We played with a lot of energy and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game, so I think it was great for the team in the long run.”
Unfortunately for the Mavs, the Nuggets’ combination of Ty Lawson (29 points, 12 assists) and Kenneth Faried (22 points, 14 rebound) was too much too overcome.
In the meantime, Jefferson, who is normally one of the Mavs’ reserve players, tallied 16 points and grabbed six boards and expressed just how competitive it is for he and his teammates to earn playing time.
“Guys are going to compete for 48 minutes,” Jefferson said. “I think one of the things that we take pride in as a team and as a group is our bench play.
“You look at our bench play this year and the way they played tonight, even with moving some of the bench guys into the starting group, the bench still played great.”
The solid work by the reserves had the Mavs within three points of a Nuggets squad which built a 19-point lead in the third quarter. But Devin Harris missed consecutive 3-point attempts which would have tied the score at 104, and Denver closed out the scoring, mostly at the free throw line.
“Overall, it was mostly the bench playing,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got a deep team and on nights like tonight we want to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Mavs were only behind 28-24 after the first period, 59-50 at the half and 78-59 with 4:56 left in the third period following a jumper by Lawson. The comeback followed, but the Mavs failed to produce the key plays at both ends of the floor to complete the comeback.
“We had a stretch there in the middle of the third where we really couldn’t hit some shots,” Jefferson said. “We had some really, really good looks, and to their credit they capitalized on it.
“When you’re down by 15 or 18 you almost have to play perfect to come back, and to their credit they were able to close it out.”
Chandler and Nowitzki sat out Wednesday’s game to rest, while Rondo has a sore left Achilles that’s been bothering him. All three played heavy minutes during Tuesday’s overtime win in Sacramento.
“I think it was a good decision to rest these guys,” said Barea, who also contributed six assists. “[Tuesday] night was a tough one, so tomorrow we’ve got to take a day off and then be ready to go on Friday.
“It was a good thing that we won the last game [in Sacramento].”
Wednesday’s loss dropped the Mavs to 27-13 as they finished this brief road trip with a 1-2 record. But having eight of the 10 players they dressed score at least 10 points speaks volumes about the Mavs’ depth.
“We need balance every night,” Carlisle said. “And tonight, without Dirk and Chandler and Rondo in there, it was going to be even more important.
“I haven’t studied this [stat sheet] yet. We did some good things, but losing is no good around here.”
The Mavs may have fared better had they gotten something out of shooting guard Monta Ellis, who finished with just five points and three turnovers and was only 1-of-11 from the field in 22 minutes.
“I should have rested Ellis. I should have just insisted that he didn’t play,” Carlisle said. “He looked tired. He couldn’t get into the game.”
Felton definitely got into the game and made the most of his court time. After playing just 16 minutes this injury-riddled season, Felton had 10 points and five assists in 29 minutes against the Nuggets.
“I like the way Felton played – he’s a very good player,” Carlisle said. “He’s a caliber player in this league. He’s definitely a rotation player, and he can start on a lot of teams, so we’re very fortunate to have him.
“Unfortunately he kind of tweaked his ankle a little bit. The thing about him is he’s such a fighter, he got up and stayed in the game and knocked the free throws in and kept playing, so I like him.”
Carlisle also liked what he got from Dwight Powell, who collected 11 points and five rebounds before fouling out in 29 minutes.
“He showed some toughness tonight, he showed some athleticism, he can shoot the ball,” Carlisle said. “He was competing hard against a very competitive bunch of front line guys from Denver.
“I’ve liked what he’s been doing in practice when we’ve had practices. We haven’t had many. But he did good things, so it was a good showing on his part.”
For the second consecutive game, the Mavs took 100 shots. Unfortunately, they missed 59. The Nuggets, now 18-20 on the year, shot 50 percent. Dallas also got hammered on the boards 51-39 by Denver, who visits American Airlines Center on Friday.
“If it’s a race to get up the most shots, then maybe we’ll have a chance to win,” Carlisle said. “But unfortunately the rebound deficit continues to be a problem – we’ve got to work on that.
“We’re back-to-back, and it’s one of the nights where you’re not going to make every one. We just had to do a few more things well to give ourselves a real chance to win.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760