DENVER - The Denver Nuggets came into their matchup with the red-hot Washington Wizards looking for a win at home before taking on the elite teams of the Association next week. Instead, Denver failed to execute the gameplan and ended up losing to the Wizards to the tune of 123-113.
Denver started the game with the unselfish ball-movement-oriented style offense that has become a staple. Wilson Chandler, fresh off of his career-high 36 points against Sacramento, was scoring easily in the early going while Gary Harris was playing extremely active basketball scoring seven points in the frame and adding two rebounds and two assists. Harris finished with 26 points, a career high, and four assists.
While Denver had issues defending John Wall and Bradley Beal, who combined for 18 first quarter points, they were scoring with the Wizards until their bench unit came in and the Wizards proceed to go on a 10-2 run. Emmanuel Mudiay saw early minutes but struggled. Denver went into the second quarter down 35-28.
"(Wall) was able to get wherever he wanted and Bradley Beal was able to get whatever threes he wanted and obviously Otto Porter contributed being a third scorer," Michael Malone explained. "We definitely took a step backward tonight."
The start of the second quarter was just as much of a struggle as the end of the first frame. If not for back to back three-point baskets from Darrell Arthur the game could have gotten out of hand early but Denver survived the struggles of their bench unit for long enough to keep the game close until the starters returned.
"I think the end of the first quarter was a really big run," Malone said. "We allowed them to go on a 10-2 run to close that quarter and midway through the second quarter there was a 17-3 run. You cannot afford those lapses or types of runs if you want to be a good team."
Denver was suddenly settling for isolation three-point attempts and stopped moving the ball while Wall continued to do whatever he pleased. Denver's deficit grew to 17 points and struggled to create looks outside of just giving the ball to Chandler and letting him go to work. The Nuggets gave up a whopping 67 points at the half and allowed Wall to go off with 15 points and five assists at the end of the first half. Denver turned the ball over eight times and allowed the Wizards to shoot 53 percent from the field and went into halftime down 67-50.
To start the third quarter Denver came out with energy and aggressiveness but still had no answer for Wall. Offensively they continued to fight but struggled to produce good looks while the Wizards scored at will. Denver began to collapse and completely failed to execute the game plan of valuing the ball and getting back on defense in transition.
Suddenly, Jamal Murray scored 10 points in two minutes and Denver went into the fourth quarter down just 12 points after being down by 24. Chandler continued his offensive onslaught and eventually finished the game with 21 points on 10-16 shooting while Harris did what he could to provide help. The combination of Beal and Wall had already combined for 42 points at the end of the third quarter. Denver went into the fourth quarter down 97-85.
"I loved the fact that being down 24 didn't mean that we rolled over and give in," Malone said. "We found a group that went out there and competed and cut it to nine."
Denver dwindled their deficit to just nine points as Denver upped their defensive intensity and began scoring in transition and hitting jump shots. Denver never gave up and continued to fight back as Harris and Murray continued to drain shots. Murray decided to start hunting his shot and finished with 17 points and four assists.
"(Murray) came in and was attacking on offense and was getting his own shot. He had five assists and was getting his teammates involved. He was making the right reads and he embraced the challenge of trying to guard a guy John Wall who is not an easy player to defend," Malone said. "I thought Jamal Murray grew up tonight. He went into the game and was part of that group that cut it to nine."
With just over two minutes remaining Markieff Morris of ended up kicking Plumlee in the groin and ejected as the play was deemed a flagrant-2 foul. Mason Plumlee made one of the two foul shots and Murray hit a floater that suddenly brought the Nuggets within eight points.
"That group of Jamal and Gary and Mason and DA (Arthur) and Juancho; they competed," Malone said. "They were a fun group watch play and get us back into the game. I love that about them."
Denver comeback was fun but ultimately futile as Hernangomez inexplicably left Otto Porter, who finished with 22 points and four steals, in the corner by himself as he splashed home the dagger three-point shot. Washington eventually won 123-113.
"It doesn't get any easier for us," Malone explained. "This is going to be a grind these last 18 games and we are looking forward to it."
Nikola Jokic missed his second-straight game with the flu and was replaced by Mason Plumlee. No update has been given on when Jokic will return to the lineup but he has been receiving a steady dose of IV bags to keep him hydrated and work through the flu. Mason Plumlee finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists.
Danilo Gallinari is dealing with a bout of vertigo and missed the matchup with the Wizards. Hernangomez started in his place and finished with seven points and nine rebounds.
Kenneth Faried missed his sixth consecutive game with back spasms and Chandler started in his place at power forward.
Harris had his career-high 26 points tonight on 10-15 shooting and 6-9 from beyond the three-point line.
Nuggets finish up their four-game home stand against the Boston Celtics on Friday night against the Boston Celtics before beginning one of the toughest stretches of the season that features a five-game stretch against the Clippers, Rockets twice, Cavaliers and Pacers.