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Wizards vs. Nuggets preview: Washington heads to Denver to face an old friend

Ten months ago, the Wizards and Nuggets completed a trade that forced both teams to change course when they swapped Nene for JaVale McGee. Tonight, we get to see how the two have adjusted with their new squads as they face off for the first time since the trade.

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Looking back now, it's fairly remarkable that JaVale McGee has blossomed into the player he has, given the circumstances he had to face after he was drafted by the Wizards in 2008. Consider the following:

  • Before his rookie season began, Brendan Haywood went down with an injury that would keep him off the court until April. Suddenly, instead of getting to learn from a steady, reliable veteran and getting occasional minutes as he developed, he was asked to play much more minutes than anyone was expecting that season, and wound up starting 14 games that year.
  • As you may remember, Gilbert Arenas was injured that year as well. The combination of those two injuries and the steep downturn in production from the rest of roster led to Eddie Jordan's dismissal after 11 games. Ed Tapscott came in with an emphasis on player development. In turn, this led to Tapscott overusing Darius Songaila at center in an attempt to keep McGee from getting playing time he hadn't earned yet. In hindsight, you can see where Tapscott was trying to keep McGee from getting a swelled head too quickly, but it's still really hard to explain how a guy can get four blocks in the three minutes of a game and still only play 11 minutes.
  • After an inconsistent, but promising rookie year, McGee struggled to get quality minutes once Haywood returned and the Wizards hired Flip Saunders to make the team a contender. As things started to fall apart, McGee picked a very inopportune time to beat Javaris Crittenton in a game of cards. From there, McGee went to role player on a struggling team to starting center on a very bad team. There was no one for the Wizards to stick him behind. Less than two seasons into his career, McGee was forced to sink or swim as an NBA player. And while he did manage to show flashes of briliance, the bad habits he reinforced during this time would come back to haunt him during the rest of his tenure.

From there, I think we all know how the story goes. As exciting as every highlight play was, it would always be erased by an even more amazingly awful highlight. Do we understand the full ramifications of what McGee's story arc in Washington has to say about this team's ability to develop young players yet? We can't say we do, but we're sure we'll figure it out sooner or later.

Where, When, and What Channel: The game will start at 9 p.m. at the Pepsi Center. You can watch it on Comcast SportsNet.

Why You Should Care: Other than tonight's obvioius post-trade narrative, it will be interesting to see how the Wizards adjust as they continue their Western road trip. They've been riding an emotional high the last week after taking down the Thunder and getting John Wall back. Now that some of the frenzy has died down after Wednesday's loss in Sacramento, can they ramp the intensity back up for a game in high altitude against a team they don't have a good shot of beating? If they can give a respectable effort tonight, it will go a long way in showing this team won't fall into the same pitfalls as the previous regime.

What They Do Well: As you'd anticipate, Denver is still great at crafting rosters to take advantage of their high altitude to force teams to run. They're fourth in the NBA in pace and have nine players who average at least eight points per game. One underrated aspect of how they wear teams down is on the offensive glass. They lead the league in offensive rebounding rate by a comfortable margin over second place Memphis. When you can smother the offensive glass like Denver, with Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov and McGee it forces opponents to defend longer, which plays right into Denver's hands.

What They Do Poorly: In terms of efficiency and frequency of use, Denver's three point shooting isn't that much different from ... Washington's three point shooting. If Gallinari isn't making shots, it can get pretty rough for Denver, unless McGee's shot is falling, of course.

How the Wizards Match Up With Them: While I see where Bullet Nation in Exile is going in trying to argue that tonight could be a moral victory type performance, I'm coming to a different conclusion. The Wizards have been at their best defending teams who get by on making jumpers. That couldn't describe any team worse than it describes Denver. Denver creates shot opportunities at the rim better than any team in the league and has played four of their last five games at home, so they should be pretty fresh. Unless John Wall and A.J. Price can force Denver into a slower paced game (and when have you ever heard of Wall doing that?) this has all the makings of a one-sided barnburner written all over it.