NBA

Improving Mavericks visit Denver

DENVER -- A loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 12 prompted Denver to change its lineup, and the Nuggets turned around their season.

The Mavericks also made a change recently, and the results have been good for them, too.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle went to a small lineup and the Mavericks surged into the Western Conference playoff chase. And now they have an undrafted rookie suddenly sparking them as they head into their Monday night matchup at Denver.

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Yogi Ferrell signed a 10-day contract with the Mavericks (20-30) and is expected to ink a two-year deal after getting off to a blazing start with Dallas. Ferrell has averaged 17.8 points, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals in 37.5 minutes during the Mavericks' current four-game winning streak.

He scored 32 in a win at Portland on Friday.

"I was just out there having a lot of fun with my guys," Ferrell said. "I get my confidence from them. They say, 'Be aggressive, be aggressive,' and I just did that."

He will present a new challenge for the Nuggets, who are coming off a 24-point loss at San Antonio on Saturday night. Denver (22-28) has gone 9-5 since losing five straight in early January, and the biggest reason is the continued emergence of second-year center Nikola Jokic.

Jokic, who turns 22 in two weeks, recorded the first triple-double of his career against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. He has opponents on alert, and Carlisle was one of the first to talk about his skills. Before Denver's 117-107 win over the Mavericks on Dec. 19, Carlisle questioned Jokic's listed height of 6-foot-10.

"That's (garbage); he is probably like 7-4," Carlisle said. "His arms are crazy long. He's a guy that plays an on-the-floor game, but he is some player."

Denver is 15-13 with Jokic in the starting lineup this season, and the Nuggets' offensive rating is 11 points higher when he is on the court.

It showed in the win over the Bucks when he had 20 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He was humble after the milestone night, deflecting credit to his team, but his team and coaches praised him.

"It's a testament to his talent and how much his team needs him," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "This will be the first of many triple-doubles. It's not a coincidence that we got 31 assists, the ball is moving, we're playing together. Nikola is a big part of that."

Both the Mavericks and Nuggets have 32 games left in the season and are in a fight for the last Western Conference playoff spot. Dallas has played its way back into the postseason conversation after a rough start. The Mavericks are jelling with the small lineup; their tallest starter is 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki, who plays small forward.

Both teams are banged up heading into Monday. The Mavericks are expected to get guard Devin Harris back after he missed the game against Portland due to an illness, but Andrew Bogut (hamstring) and J.J. Barea (calf) are out. Guard Deron Williams (toe) is questionable.

Nuggets leading scorer Danilo Gallinari (groin) is expected to miss his third consecutive game, and several Denver players are on minute restrictions as they work their way back from various injuries.