Game Preview: Nuggets Look to Sustain Momentum at Washington

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Now, the degree of difficulty on the Nuggets road trip jumps up big-time.

All of the remaining teams not only have winning records, but are all in the top eight of their respective conferences, starting tonight at Washington.

The Wizards have struggled of late – just 4-6 in their last 10 games – but don’t let that fool you. The losses were all to playoff teams, although they have proven to be bit vulnerable at home of late. Washington is also 4-6 in its last 10 home games.

The Nuggets’ degree of difficulty might be even higher if starting power forward Paul Millsap is unable to play. Millsap, who scored 22 points in a win over Chicago on Wednesday, did not participate in shootaround on Friday morning due to illness and is questionable for the game.

“He was sick all day (Thursday), obviously gave him some meds, some fluids,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got with him this morning and he was not feeling well at all. So, they felt it was in his – and our – best interest for him just to stay back at the hotel and continue to try and get some rest. So hopefully he’s able to go tonight.”

This is not a city that the Nuggets have had trouble winning in, as so many other teams have. They are 9-5 in the nation’s capital since 2004. They are 23-20 against the Wizards franchise here all-time. The teams have alternated wins and losses in D.C. in each of the last five seasons.

And the Nuggets (39-33) enter tonight’s game with increased confidence after their blowout victory over the Bulls on Wednesday night. They are two games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, trailing the Utah Jazz, which won last night. But just like the Nuggets, Utah’s schedule the remainder of the season gets tough quickly. The Nuggets, however, must continue to win to keep the pressure on the Jazz and teams ahead of them.

“You lose a couple of games and everybody was panicking a little bit, but realistically you’re only two games out of the playoffs,” forward Wilson Chandler said. “You’ve got games left. You still have time. You can’t worry about the next team and whether they are winning or not. You’ve just got to handle your business.”

So how do the Nuggets give themselves a chance to beat the Wizards? Start with these things…

Keep the Wizards off the free throw line: In the first meeting between the two teams, back in Denver on Oct. 23, the Nuggets put Washington on the free throw line 28 times. The Wizards made 26 of them, including hitting 13-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. This is one of the better teams in the NBA in drawing personal fouls, about 20.4 per game. And they are a good free throw shooting team. The Nuggets must stay away from giving them bunches of freebies.

Keep Markieff Morris at bay: Outside of the star player (or players) on each team, there is usually a role player whose production equals wins when they have good performances. Markieff Morris is that man for the Wizards. When he scores 15 or more points in a game, the Wizards are 14-5 this season. When he doesn’t? Washington is 20-23. Morris did not play in the first meeting between the two teams, so the Nuggets are seeing him for the first time tonight.

Stay energized: The Nuggets have put high-energy efforts on the court in consecutive games, and, though they lost one of them, they are encouraged by how they are playing. They have averaged 138.0 points on 53.0 percent from the field and 52.1 percent shooting from the 3-point line in those two games, and are now 23-8 this season when scoring more than 100 points in a game.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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