DENVER (AP) -- Greg Buckner drove baseline and scored on a reverse. He followed with another layup and then got another on the break. By the time he was done, the defensive specialist had a career night.
How did it happen?
"I don't know. I really don't know," Buckner said.
No matter how Buckner did it, the Nuggets will take it.
Buckner scored a career-high 28 points and Denver took over after the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki departed with a sprained left ankle in the Nuggets' 110-82 victory on Sunday night.
Carmelo Anthony had another typical night with 21 points, but it was Buckner who made the difference.
"I simply can't say enough about the effort of Buckner. He gave us such a lift," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "Just an unbelievable effort from a very hardworking young man."
Buckner did it against his former team, but that was the least of the Mavericks' worries.
After getting Erick Dampier and Jason Terry back from injuries, Dallas lost Nowitzki when the All-Star forward stepped on the foot of Denver forward Nene late in the second quarter. Nowitzki couldn't put any weight on his foot as he was helped to the locker room and will have an MRI on Monday.
"We don't know how bad, but it is not good," Dallas coach Don Nelson said. "We can't catch a break with injuries. We have done well up to this point, but like I said before, the one guy we can't afford to lose is Nowitzki and now we have lost him for a while."
Denver didn't help matters by playing so well the final three quarters.
Kenyon Martin had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Anthony added six rebounds and six assists and the Nuggets (5-5) had 35 assists on 41 field goals to reach .500 after a 1-4 start.
Buckner had stuck to his role early in the season, providing solid on-the-ball defense and steady decision-making. He changed his tune against the Mavericks, going 10-for-13 with nine rebounds after managing just 37 points on 11-for-28 shooting through Denver's first nine games.
Oh yeah, Buckner did the job on defense, too, poking away four steals and spending the night in the Mavericks' faces.
"We have so many great offensive players on this team," Nuggets center Marcus Camby said. "Greg just goes out and plays within the concept of the team and sometimes his offense gets overlooked. But guys who really know the game, really know how important and valuable he is to this team."
Dallas knows a thing or two about how valuable one player can be.
The Mavericks got off to a good start, working the ball inside and getting out on the break for easy shots to lead by as many as 16 points in the first quarter.
But it all fell apart after Nowitzki's injury. Dallas ended the game at 37 percent after hitting 13-of-23 shots in the first quarter and wasn't any better on defense, allowing the Nuggets to shoot 50 percent after a dismal first quarter.
Denver got off to a horrible start, hitting just 8-of-21 shots and scoring 18 points in the first quarter. The Nuggets were even worse on defense, failing to get back on the break and giving the Mavericks plenty of room in the lane, leading to boos from the home
crowd in the closing seconds.
"We were very fortunate because the way we started the basketball game was simply not good," Bzdelik said.
Denver got back into it in the second quarter by being more aggressive.
Collapsing the lane, challenging just about every shot on defense and getting out on the break and to the rim on offense, the Nuggets outscored Dallas 37-16 to turn a 15-point deficit into a 55-49 halftime lead.
Buckner did most of the damage, scoring 14 points on backdoor cuts and jumpers. He even took time to shake hands with Nelson while Martin was shooting a free throw at the other end.
Buckner kept it going in the third quarter, scoring on the break and on a backdoor cut to open the quarter and adding a 3-pointer and a three-point play late to put the Nuggets up 86-70.
"Honestly, I shot all layups and it's kind of hard to miss layups," Buckner said in a slight exaggeration after hitting 2-of-4 from 3-point range. "If you're a professional you're
supposed to make layups, and that's what happened."
Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe said before the game that the
team reviewed its security measures after the brawl in Detroit but didn't make any changes. ... Dallas forward Michael Finley made the trip to Denver but hasn't been cleared to practice because of a sprained ankle.