When the Denver Nuggets had to play without three starters -- including two-time MVP Nikola Jokic -- for successive games against the Mavericks in Dallas, Friday's 28-point loss to Dallas was not unexpected, but Denver's impressive response in Sunday night's rematch was downright surprising.
The Nuggets not only played better -- they beat the Mavericks 98-97 to earn a split.
On Tuesday night, Denver will try to replicate that performance when it hosts the slumping Detroit Pistons.
Denver did not practice Monday and has not updated the status of Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon, who did not make the two-game trip to Dallas. Jokic (three games) and Murray (two games) are in health and safety protocol, and Gordon has missed three games with a non-COVID illness.
It was understandable that the Mavericks took advantage of the absences Friday night, but Bones Hyland said he took the loss personally -- and Sunday he did something about it. He scored 13 of his career-high 29 points in the fourth quarter.
Hyland skipped an optional shooting day Saturday to study film from Friday.
"I didn't go," he told The Denver Post. "I stayed in my room and I just watched film. I was so mad from the first game and how we lost. ... We don't lose like that. With who we got, we can beat any team."
It would help to get the reigning MVP back as well as Murray and Gordon. Without them in the lineup, the Nuggets' bench was stretched thin but overcame the disadvantage to stop a two-game losing streak.
"You don't even have a margin for error," coach Michael Malone said.
Denver will face a Pistons team coming off a tough loss at Sacramento, Detroit's seventh loss in a row. Cade Cunningham has missed six games with left-shin soreness and could miss much more time with what the team fears is a stress fracture.
Even with that, the Pistons nearly beat the surprising Kings. Detroit led late in the fourth quarter before Sacramento went on a run to win 137-129.
"We showed toughness," Cory Joseph said. "Obviously, we didn't get the job done, which is the main goal, but we showed scrappiness, toughness. We had opportunities at times to extend the lead or hold onto it. We just made too many mistakes mentally. We played hard though, but at a certain time you just can't hang your hat on playing hard."
Since winning on opening night, Detroit has lost 13 of 15 games and has the worst record in the NBA.
--Field Level Media