DALLAS – That heavy lifting the Denver Nuggets did on the boards Friday night was way too much for the Dallas Mavericks to overcome

The Nuggets outrebounded the Mavs by 21 — including by 14 on the offensive boards – and went on to post a 114-104 triumph before an American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 20,382. The loss was the third in a row for the Mavs and dropped their record to 26-32.

It was the Mavs’ first game since the All-Star break, and unfortunately, they were experiencing the worst manpower shortage possible. Specifically, star rookie point guard Luka Doncic sat this game out with soreness in his right ankle, and that really hampered what the Mavs were able – or in this case, unable — to do.

The Mavs will play at Utah on Saturday at 9 p.m., and Doncic is listed as day-to-day. Asked if he’s going to play against the Jazz, Doncic said: “I don’t know.”

Against the Nuggets, the Mavs sure could have used Doncic, who is the team’s leading scorer and top facilitator. Denver took full advantage of Doncic’s absence as the Nuggets outscored the Mavs in second-chance points, 22-11, and literally had their way inside the paint by winning the board battle, 63-42, including 21-7 on the offensive end of the floor.

“This game was about the boards and defending, and we just didn’t answer the bell,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The rebounding was the biggest problem all night. We had a big (29-22 rebounding) deficit at halftime and it grew as the game went on.

“We talked about it coming in, we talked about it at halftime. We needed to get more people involved. But they’ve got three phenomenal rebounders with (Nikola) Jokic, (Paul) Millsap and (Mason) Plumlee), and they just beat us to death, and that was the big thing.”

Jokic, Millsap and Plumlee were terrors on the boards as they each collected 13 rebounds.

Denver (40-18) only clung to a 52-51 lead at the half, but sprinted out of the halftime gate by scoring the first eight points on the way to outscoring the Mavs in the third quarter, 39-23, to take complete control of this game. The Mavs missed their first five shots of the third quarter and trailed, 91-74, heading into the final quarter.

The Nuggets went on to lead by as much as 24 points – 103-79 – following a jumper by Jokic with 8:47 remaining in this contest before the Mavs finished the game on a 25-11 run.

In his analysis of that back-breaking third quarter by the Nuggets, guard Jalen Brunson said: “They just started playing a little hard. They turned it up a little bit and they got a little mojo going and got a run.

“We kept fighting, but it was a little too late. Their whole team just turned it up defensively. . .and you just got to give them credit.”

Brunson led the Mavs with a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shots and five assists, while Dwight Powell poured in a season-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shots and also grabbed six boards. In addition, Dorian Finney-Smith finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, Tim Hardaway Jr. tallied 13 points, Trey Burke contributed 11 points and Devin Harris added 10 points and five assists.

Meanwhile, center Salah Mejri celebrated after making just his second career 3-pointer in a first quarter that saw the Mavs lead by as much as 16-10.

“It was lucky,” Mejri said. “Why not (shoot a 3-pointer)? My shot is not that ugly.

“I’m good at the corner three from time to time, so throw a bone to me.”

When he wasn’t attempting just the 10th and 11th 3-pointers of his career, Mejri was busy trying to stand his ground with the Nuggets’ rugged front line. And that was especially true with Jokic, who finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

“Fighting with Jokic is already like – a big guy, long, not athletic at all, but he’s sneaky athletic,” Mejri said. “He doesn’t jump, he’s not fast, but he’s very long and he pushes his body a lot.”

In the meantime, the Mavs found out that life without Doncic is not at all pleasant.

“You just learn that you’ve got to play collectively, you’ve got to play together, most importantly at the defensive end,” Brunson said. “Offensively, I think we were fine.”

The Mavs shot 40.5 percent from the field and missed 31 of their 41 attempts from behind the 3-point arc, and they held the Nuggets to 40.8 percent shooting.

“Coming into a game you always have an idea of what the rotation is going to look like,” Carlisle said. “Tonight, it went a little haywire.

“In this situation when you’ve got a guy like Doncic is not playing, a lot of things can happen.”

NOTES: The NBA has sent a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association with hopes of lowering the draft-eligible age requirement from 19 years old to 18 years old. “I’m sure that they’ve done their homework and research and the reasons to do it,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t have a lot of knowledge of all the things that caused this debate, but it sounds like this is the right way to go. I don’t know what all of the provisions will be and if there are some safeguards if guys don’t get drafted.”. . .Prior to Friday’s game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone re-lived that dynamic performance by Dirk Nowitzki in this past Sunday’s All-Star game. Malone was the coach of Team Giannis, which is the team Nowitzki played for when he went 3-for-3 from 3-point land and scored nine points in just four minutes. He came into that (All-Star) game and hit three threes in that first half,” Malone said. “It looked like it was going to be Dirk’s game for a minute. But when you think about Dirk’s career, his legacy, one of the greatest international players to ever play in the NBA, his stats, his rankings, the impact he’s had on the game is well known around the world. For me personally, having a chance to get to know him a little bit off the court as a person, what a humble guy. Here is a guy that is a class act through and through, humble, and if you spent time with him you would never know he is a player with a resume that he has-world championship, Top 10 in scoring, so on and so on. Whenever he does step away, the game will definitely miss him.”. . .Nowitzki was just 1-of-7 from the field and finished with three points and five rebounds in 18 minutes against the Nuggets. “He’s been moving better and better,” Carlisle said. “The first game off the break, you never know with older players exactly how that’s going to go. He had some good looks early and they all had a chance. He didn’t knock them all in, but we’ll keep an eye on it and we’ll see how he’s doing. At this point I would expect him to be available for (Saturday’s game at Utah). But I haven’t talked to (head athletic trainer) Casey (Smith) yet.”

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