The Denver Nuggets started their five-game road trip the right way, but it took a lot of energy to win their first two. Now tired but confident, Denver will play its third game in four nights when it visits the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
The Nuggets, after a slow start, have won eight of 11, with the last two coming in Phoenix on back-to-back nights. However, it took overtime on Friday and double overtime on Saturday to get the victories.
The upside is Denver has one of the youngest rosters in the NBA — and one of the deepest. Coach Michael Malone can use 10 or 11 players, and with Michael Porter Jr. back from a 10-game absence, the rotation is even stronger.
One player who has proved his worth is Monte Morris. His offense and play-making abilities coming off the bench has been invaluable, especially Saturday night when he scored the first five points of the second overtime to get the Nuggets going.
Morris signed a three-year, $27-million extension in the offseason, and it has helped him concentrate primarily on what it takes to be a part of a winner.
“That was my biggest focus trying to get a deal done so I could go out there and perform at a high level and not worry about numbers,” Morris said after overtime win over Phoenix on Friday. “I’m going out there focused, playing for other guys, with a clear head and just trying to be the best version of me. The contract definitely got me at peace.”
Dallas likely won’t be scheming to stop Morris, not with the season Nikola Jokic is having. Jokic had 29 points and 22 rebounds in Saturday’s win and has a double-double in all 16 games this season.
DeMarcus Cousins torched the Mavericks for 28 points and 17 rebounds in Houston’s win on Saturday night. Dallas never led in the blowout loss in which Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play. Porzingis is working his way back from right knee surgery and he was held out as part of a rehab plan to work him back into basketball shape.
“He’s doing exceptionally well,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was a decision we talked about a lot, and that was one reason he didn’t get downgraded until later in the day. Things are in a really good place.”
Porzingis didn’t play in the only other meeting between the teams, a Mavericks 124-117 overtime win at Denver on Jan. 7. Dallas’ Luka Doncic had 38 points in that game. The Mavericks did have Josh Richardson for that game, but he hasn’t played since due to COVID-19 issues. Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber have also missed time for health and safety protocols.
Finney-Smith hasn’t played since the win over the Nuggets and Kleber, one of the heroes of that victory, has been out since Jan. 9. Richardson has rejoined the team and should return soon.
“I don’t have a timetable on when people are going to start playing, but Josh is probably going to be the one that is first to get back on the floor in game action,” Carlisle said.