The Washington Wizards host the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night in arguably the most crucial must-win game of the season.
The Wizards sit two games behind the Chicago Bulls for the final play-in spot with 10 games to play. The Nuggets have already clinched a playoff spot and are in the midst of a late-season coast, as they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. If the Wizards want to make the play-in tournament, they need to pick up a win against the asleep-at-the-wheel Nuggets.
MVP candidate Nikola Jokić has been facing scrutiny in the media for his lackluster defensive performances recently, but he is still arguably the most dangerous offensive weapon in the league. The two-time reigning MVP is averaging a hyper-efficient triple double this season; on top of 24.7 points per game on 63.4 percent shooting from the field, Jokić contributes an insane 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game.
The Nuggets’ second-best player all season has been a toss-up between Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray. Gordon is a phenomenal defensive player who contributes a crisp 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, while Murray is still shaking off the rust after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Murray’s 20.1 points have not been coming too easily at times, but he is still liable to go for 40 on any given night.
Also, in case you’ve forgotten, check out this nasty Gordon poster on Landry Shamet at the end the Nuggets’ Christmas day showdown against the Suns:
The rest of the Nuggets’ roster has bizarrely vacillated between deep and decrepit all season long. At times, the collection of Michael Porter Jr., Bruce Brown, Jeff Green and recent addition Reggie Jackson can look like one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league. At other times, however, any of these players can shoot (or refuse to shoot) the Nuggets out of a game.
The Nuggets’ most low-key excellent player all season has been former Wizard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has been shooting a red-hot 43.3 percent from deep on four attempts per game.
The secret to success for the Wizards lies in the center matchup. Kristaps Porzingis is the Wizard with the greatest advantage as if he plays Jokić aggressively in the post and knocks down a couple of three-pointers, the Wizards should be mostly set. Defensively, there is frankly nothing that can be done about Jokić. Rebounds will be hard to come by with Jokić patrolling down low and Gordon grabbing what Jokić can’t, but the Wizards can make up for this disadvantage by attacking the Nuggets’ weak perimeter defenders.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday. ESPN gives Denver a 73.2 percent chance to win, but with the Nuggets’ alarmingly low energy in the last few games, the Wizards likely have a better chance than given.