Denver Nuggets 117, Washington Wizards 104: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

Although it wasn’t pretty, a win is a win. The Denver Nuggets won their sixth-consecutive game Tuesday with a 117-104 victory over the Washington Wizards. Denver’s defense and dominance on the boards fueled the victory, as the Nuggets concluded a 4-0 homestand.

"With the exception of some turnovers, I thought we were pretty good tonight," Nuggets' big man Mason Plumlee said. "The record is good and the style of play is getting better. Hopefully we're just getting better each month."

The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair, as the two teams struggled to find a rhythm on offense. Although the Nuggets shot 52.4 percent from the field, they committed five turnovers and missed four free throws, which allowed Washington to stay in the game despite shooting 40.7 percent from the field, including 1 of 10 from beyond the arc. Will Barton III led the way for Denver with eight points and two assists in the quarter as Denver took a 25-23 lead into the second.

Neither team could get separation to begin the second quarter. Both second units traded baskets, with Denver’s second unit knocking down three 3-pointers in the early stages of the quarter to preserve the lead. Jerami Grant had one of his more productive quarters of the season in this second quarter, as he finished with 15 points in the frame. The Nuggets closed the half on a 25-11 run and took a 64-47 lead into the break.

"When Jerami Grant is a spot-up 3-point shooter, you're getting half the player that he is," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "When he attacks and gets to the free-throw line, he can be a threat in so many ways."

The Wizards opened the second half on a 10-4 run, as they began to knock down their 3-pointers. After connecting on 1-of-16 from deep in the first half, Washington hit two 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the third quarter. However, a quick 9-0 run from Denver pushed the lead up to 20 points. The two teams battled to a near draw during the remainder of the quarter as the Nuggets took an 86-69 lead into the fourth.

The Wizards couldn’t make a dent in Denver’s lead to begin the final quarter, as the Nuggets withstood the brief comeback attempt to maintain an 18-point lead with just over seven minutes remaining. It was a straightforward close to the game as both teams relied on their respective bench units.

Here are three takeaways from Denver’s sixth-consecutive win:

Defense remains king

The Nuggets are nearly through 20 percent of the 2019-20 regular season and so far, it has been their defense that has been the driving force in nearly all 13 of their wins. Heading into Tuesday’s contest, Denver ranked third in defensive rating, which won’t be dropping after the win over Washington.

The Wizards shot just 42.1 percent from the field and 15 percent on 3-pointers, while Denver capitalized on their mistakes to the tune of 21 points off of turnovers.

Once again, Denver’s defense did a good job in holding a star guard in check. Bradley Beal came into Tuesday’s matchup averaging 29.6 points per game, but he could only muster 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field against the Nuggets (he also committed four turnovers).

"You gameplan for that (the other team's best player)," Malone said. "That's back-to-back games that Gary has guarded two of the better shooting guards in the NBA. It's not that he did it all by himself, but he did the lion share of the work."

An up-and-down night on offense

The Nuggets’ offense had a productive night on Tuesday, but that was to be expected against Washington’s 29th-ranked defense. In the end, Denver hit 52.2 percent of its shots from the field, moved the ball effectively (31 assists) and found success in the paint, scoring 70 points in that area.

"(It was) just an attack mindset," Malone said. "We obviously struggled to make shots from the 3-point line, so when that's happening, don't settle. Be in attack mode."

However, it wasn’t all glamorous on that end of the floor, as Denver committed 21 turnovers and shot just 25 percent from beyond the arc. For a Nuggets team still looking for a consistent flow on offense, Tuesday provided some reason for optimism, with work still needed to be done to iron out several kinks.

A big edge on the boards fueled the fast break

The Wizards are by no means an elite rebounding team. Before taking on the Nuggets, Washington ranked 16th in offensive rebound percentage and 26th in opponent offensive rebound percentage. On Tuesday, the Nuggets certainly took advantage of that weakness.

Denver finished with 58 rebounds in the win, compared to just 36 for the Wizards. Furthermore, the Nuggets controlled the offensive glass and finished with 10 offensive rebounds. Nikola Jokić led the way with a season-high 20 rebounds.

As a result of finishing defensive possession with a rebound, the Nuggets were able to get out in transition a little more than usual against Washington. Denver finished with 15 fast break points on the night, which was more than their season average.

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