Wizards vs. Nuggets preview: Time to go small?

Rob Carr

The Washington Wizards are missing three of their starters. Will they change the rotation and go small to keep up with the deeper, faster Denver Nuggets?

The Washington Wizards played poorly on Friday in their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Washington was especially flustered when matched up with the Bucks' smaller, quicker lineups, falling into the trap of attempting to go one-on-one or shoot over smaller defenders rather than pound the ball inside and use their superior length to alter shot instead of gambling for blocks and steals.

Enter Denver. Like the Bucks, Denver plays small, they're just a lot better at it and a lot more talented. The Wizards are going to need to bring their A-game if they want to get back to .500.

Where and when? Game time is 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center.

Are they good? Yes, although not as good as last year's 57 win team. Denver has been hurt by the departure of Andre Igoudala as well as the absence of Danilo Gallinari and Javale McGee due to injuries. They're still incredibly deep, with Ty Lawson the only starter averaging more than 30 minutes per game, and seven players posting PER's over the league-average of 15. Despite a rocky start, the Nuggets are sitting pretty at 12-8, good for seventh in the West.

Who's out? McGee and Gallinari are definite no-gos for Denver, while Lawson is questionable for tonight due to a strained hamstring. Washington's likely going to be missing Nene, Martell Webster, Bradley Beal and Al Harrington, though we'll see about Webster. Kevin Seraphin, who has been dealing with swelling in his knee, is listed as questionable for tonight's game.

What are they good at? Denver is playing at the third fastest pace in the league while posting the NBA's fifth most effective on a per-possession basis. The team has four players - Lawson, Andre Miller, Randy Foye and Nate Robinson - who can throw lobs with the best of them, along with multiple athletic bigs who love to run the floor. While they're only 13th in the NBA in points per possession in transition per MySynergySports, they're getting almost 16 percent of their offense this way. Even if other teams are more effective running the break, hardly anyone does it as often, hence the team's elite offensive rating.

It should also be noted that Denver is excellent on the offensive glass. They're fifth in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, in no small part due to the efforts of Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson and Timofey Mozgov, all of whom are averaging more than four offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. For the sake of comparison, Nene and Marcin Gortat both average fewer than 2.3.

What are they bad at? Denver make a lot of mistakes on defense. Faried, Hickson and McGee are all at best middling defenders who attempt to compensate for a lack of fundamentals with energy and athleticism. Despite their high rate of blocks, steals and total rebounds, the Nuggets are only 18th in the NBA in defensive rating and 28th in defensive rebounding percentage per Basketball-Reference.

Denver's also very small on the perimeter, occasionally even playing Miller at small forward next to some combination of Foye, Lawson and Robinson. Jordan Hamilton and Wilson Chandler have both been solid this season so it makes you wonder if they really need to go as small as they do. Sure, it works in spurts, but playing that small tends to kill a team's defense, especially in the halfcourt.

Will the Wizards play small tonight? Washington's been surprisingly reluctant to use one of their wings as a stretch four, something that could change tonight. With Nene and Harrington out, Washington's big man rotation is going to be limited to Marcin Gortat, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely and, assuming his knee has recovered, Kevin Seraphin. Gortat can't play 48 minutes, Vesely is likely the backup center with Nene out, Booker is about 6'7 and Seraphin has struggled this year. Meanwhile, Chris Singleton is playing well and Otto Porter needs minutes. Wouldn't it make sense to play Singleton at power forward, Porter at small forward, and let Ariza alternate between both forward spots and shooting guard? Washington would have more spacing, more length than if they played Booker heavy minutes and would likely have an easier time containing the Nuggets' guards off the dribble.

Who's going to win? Washington is due to bounce back after Friday's poor showing, I just don't see it happening against Denver, at least if Lawson plays. Denver's been on a roll lately and Washington's missing four starters. There's no such thing as a moral victory at this point, not when the entire season will be considered a failure if they don't make the playoffs, but this is one of those games where you can live with a loss as long as they play hard.

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