A road-weary Nuggets squad eeked out a tougher-than-expected victory over the NBA's worst team in Washington, DC tonight.
Maybe the Nuggets were thinking ahead to Saturday night's huge game in New York against Carmelo Anthony. Maybe the lockout schedule and minor injuries to Nene and Rudy Fernandez are finally catching up with them. Regardless of the reasons, the Nuggets looked sluggish in the second half against the lowly Washington Wizards tonight and their sluggishness almost did them in with an upset road loss.
Fortunately, in spite of their poor overall energy Ty Lawson, Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari came out to play and the Wizards - not atypical of a team with just two wins - just seem destined to lose night after night. This was evident by the Nuggets' final offensive play of the game. Up only two with about 10 seconds to play, the Nuggets had the ball - meaning the Wizards had to foul immediately. But instead of pouncing and fouling a Nugget player after the in-bounds play, the Wizards allowed Harrington to be wide open under the basket for a game-sealing dunk.
Maybe the Nuggets wore themselves out after a blistering first quarter that was a highlight reel of sorts. Both the Nuggets and Wizards served up an assortment of thunderous dunks, alley-oops, blocks and three-point bombs en route to a 37-27 first quarter score. On the Wizards side of the ball, shooting guard Nick Young couldn't be stopped (he made 7 of 11 first quarter shots for 17 points), but he'd put in just 8 more points for the rest of the game. Not to be outdone, Lawson too had a great first quarter, missing just a few of his shot attempts and leading the Nuggets in scoring, rebounding and assists in the quarter.
As the Nuggets abandoned their running game in the second half (again, due to fatigue I'm sure), the Wizards were able to scrap and scrape their way into a competitive contest. But Lawson, Harrington and Gallinari would have none of it and you got the sense watching the game that the Nuggets knew they were going to win no matter what. That's the difference between an 11-5 team and a 2-13 team.
A few observations...
...Nene sat out as a precautionary measure and, surprisingly, Chris Andersen seemed to pick up a lot of Nene's would-be fourth quarter minutes.
...Timofey Mozgov had some nice dunks early and yet head coach George Karl clearly isn't comfortable with the Big Moz getting big minutes in the second half of games right now. Why?
...Nick Young's first quarter dunk on Kosta Koufos was the highlight of the game yet Altitude failed to show it on replay. Koufos was so shocked by being posterized that he managed to make just 1 of his 5 shot attempts (I kid).
...I had no idea Rudy Fernandez would play. And while Fernandez looked good out there his strained Achilles is clearly an issue and I don't think the Nuggets should push it. A strain can become a snapped Achilles and then we're really screwed if Fernandez ruptures it.
...once John Wall figures out how to really play in the NBA, he could be a monster. He may be as fast as Lawson and yet he has several inches on him. But to show how deficient Wall is right now, he finished one rebound short of a triple-double and still had a +/- of -16 for the game (due mostly to his horrid 4-17 shooting night and 4 turnovers).
...the Nuggets finally made some three-pointers, making 10 of their 21 attempts. This kept them in the game the entire night.
...Birdman's box score looks pretty good but I think his body language sucks right now. Bird just doesn't look happy to be out there and seems to have lost several steps energy-wise.
...speaking of bad body language, Andre Miller - a game removed from being the Nuggets hero - seemed to be plodding out there and he had too many fouls and a technical, too.
...it seemed like Corey Brewer, Bird and Miller were on the floor for a long time when the Nuggets could have used some scoring.
...the Nuggets had a lot of turnovers - 17 - compared to the Wizards who only turned the ball over 10 times. For a while there I forgot which team had a winning record and which team is the NBA's near worst when it comes to turnovers.
...Big Al's big three-pointer at the 1:14 mark in the fourth quarter had me convinced the Nuggets were going to win this game no matter what.
Non-Stiff of the Game
Al Harrington: The could-be Sixth Man Award winner had a season high 29 points on 10-16 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds and 5 big three-pointers made, including the ostensible game-sealer at the 1:14 mark. As I wrote about in Monday's Golden Nuggets column, you can't say enough about how valuable Harrington has been for the Nuggets this season.
Stiff of the Game
Andray Blatche: The doughy Blatche missed all 7 of his shot attempts, grabbed 6 rebounds (4 of which literally landed in his lap) and committed 5 personal fouls in 26 useless minutes.
Even though the Knicks are in free fall right now, the Nuggets will need much better energy on Saturday night to get a victory at Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony may be selfish and one-dimensional, but he's going to do whatever it takes to beat his old team. It's going to be a great game to watch and I'm looking forward to doing it with my fellow Stiffs at Jake's Food & Spirits for our first STIFFS NIGHT OUT of 2012.