The Dallas Mavericks had so much fun playing the visiting Denver Nuggets on Friday night that they are happy to do it again on Sunday.

Dallas cruised to a 28-point win in the first of two games in three days with Denver, but it comes with a bit of an asterisk. The Nuggets played without three starters, including two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, and it showed against the Mavericks.

Luka Doncic notched his fourth triple-double of the season (33 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and the 50th of his career after sitting out a game for rest, and it looked easy for him and his teammates. Dallas led by as many as 31 against a short-handed Denver squad.

“It’s great. It feels amazing,” Doncic said. “It’s a pleasure. I’m just really glad that I’m here and doing this.”

It doesn’t look like the Nuggets will have Jokic back for the rematch. Coach Michael Malone said Friday night Jokic will remain in health and safety protocols for the third straight game, as will Jamal Murray, who missed Friday’s game.

In addition to Michael Porter Jr., the only other starter with a chance to play is Aaron Gordon, who has missed the past two games with a non-COVID illness.

“I’m going to go home and pray the rosary tonight that we can get some help,” Malone said after the loss.

Denver had no success in stopping Doncic and little in containing Christian Wood, who scored 28 points in the 127-99 win.

“I think he’s comfortable. I think that you can see that he’s comfortable playing his role,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of Wood. “He’s doing a great job for us on both ends, offense and defense. Just understanding that we’re trying to get the ball offensively because he is a talent.

“The nice part about that is he’s really unselfish and he’s looking to make the right play — and he’s doing that for a high level for us right now, and we need that.”

The Nuggets need someone to step up if they’re going to flip the script Sunday night. Porter has struggled in the two games Jokic has missed, scoring a total of 15 points and shooting a combined 5-for-23 from the field.

The previous game, a win at Chicago last Sunday, Porter scored 31 points.

“I think it also speaks to the value and greatness of Nikola, how he gets guys so many easy looks because one, he attracts so much attention and he’s a great and willing passer,” Malone said. “While Nikola is not here, we have to find ways to try to get Michael some easy ones, and I think Michael’s got to help himself at the same time.

“We need Michael.”

Jokic, Gordon and Murray weren’t the only ones sidelined. Ish Smith has missed the last two games with a right calf strain, further depleting the bench. It did give Vlatko Cancar a chance for some minutes, and he logged 23 while scoring eight points.

Bones Hyland was the only reserve to score in double figures. He finished with 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting and was 3-for-11 from 3-point range.

–Field Level Media