Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude back-to-back against Wizards

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Fresh off a 112-99 loss to the Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets must quickly regroup to complete a back-to-back set in the Nation’s capital.

Denver (15-12) received 68 combined points from the duo of Nikola Jokić (43) and Jamal Murray (25), but the supporting cast struggled to make shots and the Nuggets didn’t have enough juice on offense while missing five rotation players (Gary Harris, PJ Dozier, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, and Monte Morris).

MORE: Three takeaways from loss to Celtics

Washington has had to navigate several injuries and absences related to the league’s Health and Safety Protocols. The Wizards have disappointed so far relative to preseason expectations, sitting at just 8-17 heading into Wednesday’s contest.

However, the Wizards have won two in a row and three of their past five games, and with some better health and more availability from key players, could certainly still figure into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Bradley Beal has continued to torch teams on a nightly basis, leading the league in scoring at 33.3 points per game as he has cemented himself as one of the deadliest scorers in the league.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., JaMychal Green, Nikola Jokić

TUNE IN: 6 p.m. MT, Altitude TV, 92.5FM

Key matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Russell Westbrook

A move that generated plenty of attention in the condensed 2020 offseason was the swap of John Wall for Russell Westbrook.

Unfortunately for Washington, the move hasn’t worked out as intentioned, as Westbrook has struggled to perform at his typical All-Star levels, while he has missed seven games on the season. The 2016-17 MVP has seen his scoring numbers dip by 7.9 points per game this season, while Westbrook’s 47.5 true shooting percentage is his worst since his rookie campaign back in 2008-09.

However, Westbrook can still take over a game with his blend of scoring and playmaking, while he can still be a terror in transition. The key for Denver will be to get back in transition and pressure Westbrook into mid-range and 3-point attempts (the 32-year-old has shot just 30.3 percent from beyond the arc).

Meanwhile, Murray is coming off another solid performance against Boston, in which he scored 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field (4-of-8 from beyond the arc). Tuesday marked the third-consecutive game in which Murray scored at least 22 points. The 23-year-old guard also added six rebounds and six assists against the Celtics, and Denver will need all of that production, and possibly more, on Wednesday if they look to split the back-to-back set.

The battle in the mid-range

Similar to Tuesday’s matchup against Boston, Wednesday’s game pits two teams that thrive in the mid-range against each other.

Washington ranks fourth in the frequency of shot attempts coming from that area of the floor (37.5 percent), while it has converted at a solid 43.4 percent clip on such shots, which ranks 10th in the league.

Meanwhile, Denver’s shot distribution is a bit more balanced, but the Nuggets still look to attack from the mid-range often, as 32.5 percent of their shot attempts have come from that part of the floor this season, which ranks 12th in the league. Denver has shot even better than Washington in the mid-range, ranking seventh at 44.6 percent on the season.

Both defenses also give up plenty of mid-range attempts, choosing to focus more on defending the rim and limiting 3-point attempts. Opponents have attempted 41.1 percent of their shot attempts from the mid-range against Washington this season, by far the highest frequency in the league.

Denver also ranks in the top 10 in this regard, as teams have taken 31.8 percent of their shot attempts from the mid-range against the Nuggets this year.

Get back in transition

When Russell Westbrook is on your team, you are going to play at a fast pace and look to run whenever possible. This season’s Wizards squad is no exception.

Washington tops the league in pace so far this season and ranks fourth in the frequency of possessions that start with a transition play. The Wizards look to run at any opportunity, but especially off of live rebounds, which is where the Nuggets have been vulnerable this season.

Overall, Denver’s defense has been about average in transition, but most of its success defending in transition has come against transition plays following a turnover. When looking at transition plays that began following a live rebound, Denver ranks 21st in opponent points added per 100 possessions.

If Denver isn’t hitting shots and thus allowing Washington to get out in transition regularly, Wednesday’s contest will be a challenge, especially since Beal can take over a game within the halfcourt.

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