Mavericks hold off Nuggets for 104-96 win |

Mavericks hold off Nuggets for 104-96 win

Pat Graham
AP Sports Writer

DENVER – The Denver Nuggets bumped and bullied Dallas right out of the playoffs last season.

This is no longer that team. Not by a long shot.

Drew Gooden scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki hit a clutch 3-pointer late in the game, lifting the Mavericks to a 104-96 win Sunday night over a Denver squad missing All-Star guard Chauncey Billups.

Dallas handed the league’s best home team a rare loss as the Nuggets fell to 13-2 at the Pepsi Center.

The Mavericks also snapped a five-game regular-season slide against Denver, a team that dispatched them in five games during the Western Conference semifinals last season.

“I think they’re on a mission to have a great year,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “They took one from us. We’re going to have to figure out how to take one from them.”

The Mavericks displayed their depth Sunday as seven different players scored in double figures.

“It’s a lot of weapons,” said Gooden, who went 8 for 8 from the field. “That’s a big plus when you’ve got everybody on the court at the same time that can score.”

Coming into the contest, Gooden was questionable to suit up. He missed the Mavericks’ win over Memphis on Saturday with back spasms and didn’t think there was any way he’d be in uniform Sunday.

He underestimated the healing power of pain relievers.

“I probably ate a whole bottle of Advil in the last 34 hours,” Gooden said, smiling. “I’m all right and ready to go.”

The Nuggets missed Billups’ leadership, and he will miss at least one more game as he gives his strained left groin extra time to heal.

Billups injured the groin on Dec. 16 against Houston and sat out three straight games. He returned on Christmas Day at Portland, but didn’t play in the second half.

No Billups meant the Mavericks could double up on Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. It made for a long evening for both.

Anthony was held to 16 points, well below his league-leading average of 30.4 entering the game. Anthony also finished with a season-high 12 rebounds, before fouling out with 2:47 left.

The sharp-shooting Smith had 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

“When (Billups) is not there, it’s a sigh of relief for the other team,” said Anthony, who was just 5 of 19 from the floor.

That’s why the Mavericks weren’t reading too much into this win.

All right, maybe a little. It’s been nearly three years since the Mavericks won in Denver.

“Obviously, they were missing Chauncey, who is the head of the snake,” Nowitzki said. “But it is still a good win.”

The Mavs weren’t pushed around in this game, holding their ground. It’s a style they know they have to grow accustomed to.

“When you come into this building, you know they’re going to play physical and if you want a chance you have to adjust to that kind of style,” Nowitzki said. “They’re a strong and athletic team. It happened to us in the playoffs last year, kind of hanging around for three quarters and they picked their defensive pressure up, we turned the ball over a bunch and next thing you know we’re down 20.”

Not this time.

Leading by 14 midway through the final quarter, the Mavericks saw their lead trimmed to four, 98-94, with 2:34 remaining.

But Gooden hit a free throw and a layup to give the Mavericks some breathing room. Nowitzki sealed the contest with a deep 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining.

“I liked the way we played,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Karl thought his team’s emotion, which usually works in their favor, was a hindrance against Dallas.

“I think we got too emotional at times and too frustrated at times with the refereeing, with the ball not going in, not shooting the ball very well, missing layups,” Karl said. “It seems like our emotional balance at times was too out of control.”

That’s where Billups could’ve played a role. The team marches to his beat. But Sunday he could only watch.

“I thought we fought hard at different spurts at the game, but we didn’t fight very smart,” Billups said. “You have a small margin of error when you play against really good teams and Dallas is a really good team.”

NOTES: For Dallas, this was the first contest on a four-game road trip that includes three playoff teams from a year ago. … Nuggets F Kenyon Martin led the Nuggets in scoring with 18 points. He also had 11 rebounds.

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