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Disappearing offense leaves Nuggets on the skids

Michael Malone banned talk of the postseason from the Denver Nuggets locker room after a stunning home loss to the Atlanta Hawks last week.

There doesn't seem to be a reason to welcome it back after a 32-point drubbing at the hands of San Antonio on Saturday night.

The Nuggets (22-21) have lost four of their last five, are suddenly battling with the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth seed and look to get back on track Tuesday night when they host the Dallas Mavericks.

The Clippers' hot streak makes Wednesday's visit to L.A. take on more meaning for Denver. But before they can focus on the Clippers, the Nuggets need to focus on theMavericks, whom they lost to by 17 last month in Dallas.

If the 13-point loss to Atlanta on Wednesday is any warning, the Nuggets can't take the Mavericks lightly. They've gone 6-4 in their last 10 games and nearly beat the Lakers in Los Angeles before falling in overtime on Saturday, and have a chance to steal another win against a Denver team that is struggling offensively.

The Nuggets have failed to hit 100 points in five of their last six games, four of them losses, and seem to have lost their offensive flow. Center Nikola Jokic has struggled from the field during the recent stretch when he has been playing the power forward position alongside center Mason Plumlee.

Malone has said it helps Jokic defensively, but the offense has taken enough of a dip that there could be a lineup shakeup against Dallas.

"We're not married to it," Malone told reporters after Monday's practice about pairing Jokic and Plumlee.

The Mavericks (15-29) are facing decisions as the trading deadline looms. They can stand pat or be sellers next month and look to the future, which soon will not include icon Dirk Nowitzki. The small forward is in the twilight of his illustrious career, but he has shown he can still score. He had 20 points against Orlando and 19 against Charlotte in consecutive wins.

"Dirk's really one of the most amazing athletes I've ever seen or been around," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters last week. "To perform like this at the advanced age of 39 in the NBA is just unbelievable."

He is averaging 12.3 points a game this season, his 19th, and has become a complimentary player to youngsters like point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Harrison Barnes leads Dallas at 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

He'll be challenged to rebound against Denver's bigger lineup, although one reason Malone might bring Plumlee off the bench is to match Dallas' small-ball lineup.

The Nuggets recalled forward Tyler Lydon from the G League, and the first-round draft pick could see some time Tuesday night.

Denver is searching for any formula to get back on track while waiting or the return of power forward Paul Millsap. Millsap has been out with a left wrist injury since November and isn't expected back until the All-Star break or later.

Until he gets back the Nuggets have to figure out how to stay relevant in the playoff race. Beating the Mavericks at home will be a good start.

Updated January 15, 2018

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