Preview: Denver Nuggets look to split season series vs. Wizards

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Sometimes all you need is a little home cookin'.

For the Denver Nuggets, a return to Ball Arena following a four-game road trip was a welcomed sight in a 111-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. Denver was led by Nikola Jokić (41 points) and Jamal Murray (24 points, with 19 coming in the fourth quarter) and set a new NBA record for lowest turnovers in a game (one).

MORE: Three takeaways from win over Portland

Denver (17-14) now shifts its focus to the Washington Wizards, who wrap up a four-game road trip of their own in the Mile High City on Thursday. The Wizards saw their five-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the LA Clippers on Tuesday, but Washington has been much improved as of late, which included a 130-128 win over the Nuggets just over a week ago.

Over this 5-1 stretch, the Wizards have posted the 13th-ranked defense, a vast improvement from their early-season struggles on that end of the floor. With Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook running the offense, Washington has begun to look like the team many expected them to heading into the 2020-21 campaign.

Projected starters: Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

GREG WHITTINGTON – LEFT KNEE ARTHROSCOPY. DOUBTFUL.

P.J. DOZIER – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

PAUL MILLSAP – LEFT KNEE SPRAIN. OUT.

GARY HARRIS – LEFT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

JAMYCHAL GREEN – LEFT SHOULDER SPRAIN. OUT.

TUNE IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr. vs. Rui Hachimura

If Porter Jr. receives another start at the four spot, he will matchup often with Hachimura, who has earned a large role on the Wizards this season.

The two second-year forwards have posted similar statistics this season, with Hachimura averaging 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game to Porter Jr.’s 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

However, the two forwards get their points in a different fashion. Porter Jr. is an elite 3-point shooter (38.3 percent on the season), whereas Hachimura prefers to operate more inside the arc. Although Porter Jr. has struggled to find a rhythm as of late (the 22-year-old has shot 41 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from deep over the past 10 games), he is coming off a solid 12-point, 10-rebound double-double against Portland, which showcased his ability to contribute to other areas of the game when his shot isn’t falling at an elite clip.

Keep Washington off the free-throw line

No Nuggets fan needs a rehashing of how last week’s game against the Wizards ended. After a late flurry from Jamal Murray (which included a logo 3-pointer to tie the game with a few seconds remaining), Bradley Beal was able to get inside the paint and draw a foul to win the game.

While the ending was frustrating for Denver, getting to the charity stripe is a normal part of Washington’s routine. The Wizards rank third in the league in free throw rate at 22.5, which measures how many free throws a team makes per 100 field goal attempts.

On the defensive end, Denver has struggled at times to avoid fouling, and the Nuggets rank 20th in opponent free throw rate on the season (20.2). In Washington’s victory over Denver last week, the Wizards went 27-34 from the charity stripe, which is a number that the Nuggets need to limit on Thursday.

The battle in the mid-range

In today’s NBA, it’s rare that you find a matchup that pits two teams that thrive in the mid-range against each other.

Washington ranks fifth in the frequency of shot attempts coming from that area of the floor (36 percent), while it has converted at a solid 43.9 percent clip on such shots, which ranks ninth 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 11th in the league. Denver has shot even better than Washington in the mid-range, ranking sixth 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 39.1 percent of their shot attempts from the mid-range against Washington this season, by far the highest frequency in the league.

Denver ranks 12th in this regard, as teams have taken 30.7 percent of their shot attempts from the mid-range against the Nuggets this year. Whichever team can get to their spots in the mid-range could have the offensive advantage on Thursday, which would go a long way in deciding the contest given some of the struggles on the defensive end that both teams have had this season.

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