Preview: Wizards close homestand Wednesday night vs. Nuggets

Looking for their third win in a row, the Wizards close their five-game homestand on Wednesday night, hosting the Nuggets at 8:00 P.M. at Capital One Arena. Washington is coming off back-to-back wins over Boston and Houston. Denver is playing on the second night of a back-to-back of their own, having lost in Boston on Tuesday night.

GAME INFO

Capital One Arena | 7:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM

PROBABLE STARTERS

Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Bradley Beal, F – Garrison Mathews, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Moe Wagner

Nuggets: G – Gary Harris, G – Jamal Murray, F – Michael Porter Jr., F – JaMychal Green, C – Nikola Jokic

INJURY REPORT

Wizards: Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Ish Smith (strained right quadriceps – out)

Nuggets: Will Barton (personal reasons – out), PJ Dozier (right hamstring strain – out), Gary Harris (left adductor strain – questionable), Nikola Jokic (right thumb sprain – probable), Paul Millsap (left knee sprain – out), Monte Morris (right shoulder strain – questionable), Greg Whittington (left knee arthroscopy – out)

STORYLINES

Role players step up in recent wins

A pair of back-to-back wins for the Wizards on Sunday and Monday were headlined by the usual names. Explosive scoring performances from Bradley Beal and a triple-double from Russell Westbrook jump off the box score, but the Wizards’ success was heavily dependent on contributions from a rotating cast of other names. Davis Bertans, who had struggled from 3-point territory for most of the season, played one of his best defensive games of his career against the Celtics on Sunday and hit five threes against the Rockets on Monday. Against the Celtics, Robin Lopez and Deni Avdija came off the bench to help maintain a presence in the paint and on the boards. Lopez finished with 10 points on 3-6 shooting and recorded a block while Avdija grabbed 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. Against the Rockets, it was Moe Wagner and Raul Neto who provided the extra juice to put the Wizards over the top. Wagner scored 15 points on 6-10 (.600) shooting to go along with three rebounds and four steals and was widely praised by teammates and Wizards head coach Scott Brooks for the energy he has brought to the lineup. With fellow back-up point guard Ish Smith out with a quad injury, Neto helped put Houston away, scoring 10 points in 13 minutes in the second half.

Wizards winning with defense

After a slow start to the 2020-21 season and a January that was turned upside down by health and safety protocols, the Wizards have found their footing in the month of February. In their last 10 games, Washington is 5-5, not a record worth celebrating – but worth noting. After their thrilling three-point win over the Nets on January 31, the Wizards have added victories against Miami, Chicago, Boston and Houston, winning in both dominant fashion and in down-to-the-wire, crunch time scenarios. Running in stark contrast to the way they started the season, the Wizards have relied mostly on their defense to turn things around. In the month of February, Washington ranks 10th in the NBA with a 110.9 defensive rating.

“We’re playing hard,” Russell Westbrook said after the Wizards’ Monday win over the Rockets. “We’re not putting ourselves in a hole and then having to work our way back. (That allows us) to be able to play the right way, allows us to be able to move the basketball, create shots for everyone on the floor and allows us to play the way we want to.”

Shorthanded Nuggets lean on Jokic

The Nuggets had won three consecutive games before their Tuesday night loss to the Celtics, including a 17-point win over the Lakers on Sunday night. With a number of key rotation pieces out against Boston, including Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Monte Morris and Will Barton, Denver lacked the depth and versatility that usually makes them so hard to slow down. The Nuggets’ bench unit scored just 14 points and shot 0-8 (.000) from 3-point range. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who rank 1-2 on the team in scoring, did their part on Tuesday, combining for 68 of the team’s 99 points. Jokic totaled 43 points, his eighth game this season scoring at least 35, and is now averaging 27.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists on the season. Whether Denver sees some of its missing players return to the lineup or not, the Wizards’ defensive efforts will start with the big man. In two games last season against Washington, Jokic was a force on the glass, grabbing 30 rebounds in two games, but averaging just 11.0 points per game.

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