DENVER — Rick Carlisle chose youth over experience in a crucial game. He might stick with that formula in the Dallas Mavericks’ fight for the playoffs.
Dwight Powell scored a career-high 16 points in his first NBA start, J.J. Barea had 18 points and 11 assists, and the Mavericks beat the Denver Nuggets 97-88 Monday night.
Dallas rookie Justin Anderson had 11 points in his second start. Carlisle inserted the young players to inject some life into a team that had lost 10 of 12 to fall behind the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz in the Western Conference playoff race.
“We had trouble defending, and you need to get more energetic, better defenders in the game,” Carlisle said. “I felt, right now, we’ve got to make the point that anything other than your best effort and your best energy is unacceptable. These two guys (Powell and Anderson) you know are going to go hard, unconditionally. They delivered tonight.”
Wesley Matthews scored 14 for the Mavericks, who snapped a three-game skid and moved into a tie with the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Dallas (36-38) and Houston (36-38) are one game behind seventh-place Utah (37-37) with eight games left.
Despite the Mavericks’ recent slide, they control their postseason fate. Dallas plays Houston at home on April 6 and faces the Jazz in Utah on April 11.
The Rockets and Jazz might see a different lineup when they face
the Mavericks thanks to the strong play by Powell and Anderson.
“It’s difficult to lose games,” Powell said. “That’s been tough. But with less opportunity on the floor, I have been spending a lot more time in the gym outside of practice to make sure I’m in shape and make sure I’m getting stronger still.”
The new lineup also helped the Mavericks take care of the ball. Dallas tied a franchise low with four turnovers and forced Denver into 21 giveaways.
“I give them no credit,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We beat ourselves. We made mistake after mistake. We were a bad team tonight. We beat ourselves in every way, shape and form.”
Nuggets guard Will Barton came off the bench scored a game-high 23 points while grabbing eight rebounds. Emmanuel Mudiay had 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds for Denver.
The Nuggets (31-44) welcomed back Kenneth Faried and Jameer Nelson to help with the depth on the second game of a back-to-back.
Faried, who missed the previous four games with lower back soreness, finished with nine points and 11 rebounds.
Nelson missed eight games in early February with a sprained left wrist and then sat the next 16 after the acquisition of D.J. Augustin. He played just seven minutes and missed his only shot attempt.
Even with the veterans back, the Nuggets couldn’t do much against a Dallas team playing for the postseason.
“They knew the importance of tonight’s game,” Barton said. “Anytime we made a run, they didn’t panic, they slowed the game down and got what they wanted on offense and turned it up on defense.”
Dirk Nowitzki had 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting, but the Mavericks ended the third quarter on an 8-3 run to take a 72-66 lead.
The lead was four when Powell got rolling. He cut to the basket for a dunk, hit a jumper, had another dunk off of an offensive rebound and finished the flurry with a 13-foot jumper to increase Dallas’ lead to 89-79 with 4:23 left.
“It felt good. I’m glad it came before the end of the game,” Powell said of his shooting in the fourth. “I talked to Dirk. He told me to settle down. I was able to be in rhythm and knock them down.”
Barea’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 92-81 lead, its largest of the night, with 3:18 left. It was the Mavericks’ last basket, but the Nuggets got no closer than six.