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Mavs Show Potential Playoff Versatility in Electric Win Over Defending-Champion Nuggets

To win in the playoffs, your play-styles have to be able to adapt when things get ugly. The Dallas Mavericks gave us a preview of their playoff potential in a gutsy 107-105 win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon.

DALLAS – If the Dallas Mavericks are going to make some noise in the NBA playoffs this year, they're going to have to be able to win in a variety of different ways. That means when shots aren't falling from 3-point range, the Mavs must adapt by relying more on their defense and post presence.

On Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous St. Patrick's Day crowd at American Airlines Center, the Mavs did just that in a gutsy 107-105 win over the defending-champion Denver Nuggets. Despite shooting just 25.7 percent from deep, the Mavs pounded the Nuggets in the paint, 62-38. This was a significant development, as Denver ranks sixth in the league with 53.4 points in the paint per game, while Dallas ranks 26th with 47.6.

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"They executed the game plan," Mavs head coach Jason Kidd said of his team. "Just going into this afternoon, understanding Denver dominates the paint -- and I think they only got 38 [points in the paint] this afternoon with Joker (Nikola Jokic) and those guys. Joker's ability to get the ball in the paint and be able to pass to [Aaron] Gordon. I thought Maxi [Kleber], I thought P.J. [Washington] ... being able to put a four on Joker and let our five roam and protect the rim was big tonight with [Daniel] Gafford and D-Live (Dereck Lively II).

"Those two did a really good job of executing the game plan and then being able to rebound out of that. When you give a free run to Gordon or these other guys on the perimeter, it can put you in a bad situation rebounding. But I thought, again, we did a good job of rebounding the ball. D-Jones (Derrick Jones Jr.), P.J., those guys being able to come back and help out."

Overall, the Mavs have struggled defensively since the All-Star break, but they've also shown flashes of intriguing defensive potential like we saw on Sunday afternoon. Watching the Mavs manhandle a physical team like the Nuggets makes you wonder if these kind of performances will become more routine once the team is able to establish a little more continuity and chemistry with newcomers Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington.

Mavs star point guard Kyrie Irving, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and three steals – not to mention an insane left-handed buzzer-beater over Nikola Jokic to win the game – believes his team can match up well with any opponent they might face in the postseason due to their newfound depth and versatility.

“I feel like we match up with everybody well, especially on the defensive end," Irving said. "We have the ability to switch one through five and we also have a foundational defense we’ve been going through pretty much the whole season. I felt like we just consistently worked on our communication and the trust that we have in the intangible skill sets to be able to stop teams.

"We also have the skill sets offensively to dominate teams and really get out in transition, and not so much playing half-court and the iso game. If we get a few fast break points, if we score 15 fastbreak points, it’s gonna be a hard night for any team. We are gonna keep playing to our strengths and when it gets tough and we face a little adversity throughout the game, we’re able to slow the game down and throw it to the post or go to our comp plays.”

After leading by 13 points with 6:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Mavs found themselves down 105-102 before Luka Doncic and Irving scored the final seven points in the final 25 seconds to win the game for Dallas. The Mavs gave up some ground, but they never completely let go of the rope, and that's the mark of a team that could experience success come playoff time.

"I thought the team stayed together," Kidd said. "Denver is the reigning champ; they've seen everything, they came back. But we got stops when we had to, and we executed late game."

Not only did Sunday's win inch the Mavs closer to climbing out of the Play-In Tournament, but it also sent a jolt of confidence throughout the entire roster. If the Mavs were able to win a game against a Nuggets team that had won 11 of their 12 games since the All-Star break, while shooting as poorly as they did, what are they capable of when those shots from deep start falling at a high percentage again?