The Denver Nuggets failed to bring their defense to the nation’s capital as they fell 128-114 to the Washington Wizards. Washington’s second unit put its stamp on the game and were able to dictate play on both ends of the floor throughout the game. Despite an impressive scoring performance from Jamal Murray, Denver fell in an early hole and despite regaining the lead briefly in the second half, couldn’t overcome Washington’s impressive performance.
"We had a mindset that we could just show up and win a game," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "Tonight is exactly what the doctor ordered. Embarrassing performance, unacceptable, whatever you want to call it."
Despite an early 9-2 run to begin the game, the Nuggets (24-11) found themselves in a back-and-forth battle throughout the first quarter. Cold 3-point shooting (1-of-11) and struggles on the boards plagued Denver in the quarter, as Washington was able to take advantage with an extended 22-4 run during the latter stages of the quarter. The Wizards would ultimately take a 31-19 lead into the second frame.
It was more of the same to begin the second quarter, as Washington (11-24) extended its lead to 16 midway through the quarter. Despite their best efforts, the Nuggets struggled to make up much ground throughout the majority of the quarter. However, a late 14-4 run to close the half brought the Nuggets within six points as the Wizards took a 61-55 lead into the break. Denver’s one-two punch of Nikola Jokić and Murray led the way in the first half as they combined for 23 points.
Murray came out of the halftime break firing on all cylinders, as he scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half to help Denver gain its first lead since the opening minutes of the game. However, the Nuggets weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum they built in order to extend their lead and Washington regained the lead late in the quarter as a result of continued strong play from its second unit. The Wizards would take a 95-90 lead into the final frame, despite 20 third-quarter points from Murray.
Malik Beasley made his presence felt early in the fourth quarter by knocking down two 3-pointers, but the Nuggets still found themselves down midway through the final quarter. Ish Smith scored 13 points during the early and middle stages of the quarter was Washington extended its lead to 118-103 with just under five minutes remaining in the game. Michael Malone inserted a plethora of players from the bench to close the game as Washington comfortably closed out the game.
"We didn't come with the proper mindset," Malone said. "Give them credit. All of their players played at a much higher level than we did. They were locked in, played hard, determined and focused, while we were the opposite."
Here are three takeaways from Denver’s loss:
Blue Arrow almost came to the rescue
Murray’s impressive shot-making abilities were on full display on Saturday, especially in the third quarter. As mentioned earlier, the 22-year-old guard dropped 20 points in that quarter alone and ultimately finished with 39 on the night on 13-of-19 shooting from the field.
Furthermore, Murray was able to diversify his scoring, as he knocked down three 3-pointers and went 10-10 from the charity stripe. After Denver’s early struggles on offense on Saturday, Murray came alive just when the Nuggets needed him most.
Denver’s second unit couldn’t keep up
When Ish Smith outscores your entire second unit and the Wizards get 92 total points from their bench, it’s not a good sign of success. Denver’s bench unit struggled to get into a rhythm throughout the night and the Wizards’ bench was able to capitalize on those struggles to maintain Washington’s lead throughout the night. Smith (32 points) and Isaac Bonga (15) were able to achieve career-best scoring nights on Saturday.
Despite some key contributions from the second unit in the second half, including a couple of 3-pointers from Malik Beasley steady playmaking from Monte Morris, Washington won the game on the back of its second unit.
Defensive struggles persist
The Wizards have had one of the league’s best offenses throughout the season, but on a night in which they were missing Bradley Beal (among other key players such as Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant), the Nuggets still weren’t able to find much success on the defensive end.
This has been a troubling trend for Denver in recent weeks, as the team’s defense has slipped from a really impressive start to the season. On Saturday, it was the Wizards’ second unit that found plenty of success against the Nuggets’ defense, which isn’t what you would expect from a team looking to make an extended playoff run in the Western Conference.
Washington finished with a 128 offensive rating, shot 54.9 percent from the field and scored 72 points in the paint. It’s hard to win any game in the NBA when your opponent has that much success on the offensive end.
"We've been humbled before," Malone added. "Our defense, over the last seven games is bottom of the league and tonight was another awful performance. The reality is that this is the NBA. I don't care who plays, they're all professionals playing for something."