Scott Brooks gave Troy Brown Jr. his first career start in place of Trevor Ariza who missed the game with a groin strain, but he didn’t stop the rotation tweaks there. He also moved Jeff Green out of the starting lineup so he could play Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant together. The changes worked early, as the Wizards jumped out to an early six-point lead, but that lead soon disappeared as the Nuggets caught fire later in the first quarter.
Denver got it going from deep in the first half, connecting on 7 of their 15 first-half attempts. Of course Nikola Jokic, the man in the middle, served as Denver’s offensive catalyst. He had 6 first-half assists. Whether it was finding teammates open on the perimeter or cutting to the basket, he kept Washington off-balance defensively.
In the second half, the Nuggets opened a 14 point lead, but the Wizards countered thanks to a couple of timely 3-pointers from Bradley Beal and a beautiful and-1 from rookie Troy Brown Jr, started by Thomas Bryant’s big block on Nikola Jokic.
Bryant block --> Brown bucket— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) March 22, 2019
Young fellas give the Wizards the lead! pic.twitter.com/rjBftQR5my
They briefly took the lead late in the third quarter but after Denver recaptured the lead, Washington couldn’t quite get close enough to close the deal. They cut the lead to 3 and had a chance to force overtime after Gary Harris missed back-to-back free throws with under 10 seconds left, but Harris grabbed the offensive rebound off his own miss and redeemed himself by making both of his next two free throws to secure the win for Denver.
Jokic was too much for Washington to handle
The Wizards had no answers for Jokic early in the game. He frequently got deep position in the post against Portis and Bryant which gave him a variety of ways to score. He also was effective in the high post, finding cutters and open shooters on the perimeter. The Wizards only chance of winning this game would be to at least take him out of his rhythm.
They held him to 5 points in the second half, but he still got his teammates involved. He finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 11 assists—a nice, but relatively modest stat line for the All-Star big man. Although they got better at slowing him down as the game went on, his early impact freed up the rest of the offense to do damage the rest of the night. Eight of the nine Nuggets scored in double digits and six of those eight made at least half of their shots from the field.
Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds
Tonight was a battle of the best rebounding team in the league and the second-worst rebounding team in the league. Scott Brooks went to the big lineup with Portis and Bryant counteract some of Denver’s strength in that department, but it didn’t have much of an effect in the first half. The Nuggets’ second-chance opportunities helped them keep it close when they got off to a slow start.
The duo did a better job in the second half on the glass and it played a big part in why Washington was more competitive in the second half. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the one that mattered at the end which could have helped them extend the game. Still, it’s remarkable Washington was only outrebounded 40-38 considering they were going against the league’s best rebounding team.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Wizards lost a ton of momentum when they turned the ball over four times to close out the third quarter and allowed the Nuggets back in the game. Denver turned 11 Washington turnovers into 19 points that really hurt the Wizards’ chances of pulling off the upset. Although they did a surprisingly good job at limiting second-chance opportunities, their carelessness with the ball gave Denver extra shot opportunities that tilted the odds even more in their favor.
Next up: The Wizards (30-43) play their last home game before embarking on a week-long road trip on Saturday as they host the Miami Heat (35-36) at 7 pm Eastern Time.