In a recent postgame interview, Danilo Gallinari correctly identified the Nuggets' biggest problem on the road this season: their defense stinks, and it was no better tonight. Despite a big run in the 4th quarter the Nuggets used to cut the Wizards lead to just 2 it wasn't enough. The Nuggets never lead against the 15-37 Wizards and have now notched 19 losses on the road. Tonight's loss hurts especially since they are now 3 games back of the Grizzlies for the 4th seed - or will be after tonight - and are in danger of potentially ceding the 5th seed to the Warriors.
Tonight's defensive effort was no different. The Washington Wizards scored three consecutive quarters of 30 points or more against the Nuggets, as the Nuggets offered little resistance either in the paint or on the perimeter. Emeka Okafor looked like a juggernaut, powering through the paper-maiche like defense of Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee all game. As mentioned in the preview, the Wizards are the worst team in the NBA at scoring - yet they broke their season per game average by the third quarter, scoring 94 points and nearly 30 above their season average. The defensive rotations looked confused, there was little cohesion on the perimeter, and - stop me if you've heard this before - the Nuggets once again let another team obliterate them from beyond the arc, as the Wizards shot 11-24 from the perimeter, and were 10-19 at one point.
While it sure would be great if the Nuggets could play every game left in the season and playoffs at home, it'd be even better if the Nuggets could just figure out why they are such a different team on the defensive end away from the Pepsi Center. Frankly, I'm somewhat lost as to why the Nuggets can't play at least an approximation of their home defense on the road consistently. The Nuggets dig themselves enormous holes and often find themselves battling just to stay competitive in the early going, and by the end of many games are too exhausted to battle into a winnable situation. The Nuggets, by far one of the best rebounding teams in the league, were also outrebounded by 13 on the glass, 49-36.
The Nuggets managed to pull out some great defensive play late to make it competitive tonight, but they're still going to consistently lose when they don't give a better effort in the first three quarters of the game. I will definitely give the Nuggets a tiny modicum of credit for battling back, down by as many as 18, when they simply could have thrown in the towel, though.
After being so consistently good in the last few months, Danilo Gallinari utterly vanished tonight in a game the Nuggets desperately needed him to make some big shots. He seemed utterly sapped of energy, deferred and looked completely out of his game. He didn't demand the ball, didn't run to help close out on perimeter shooters... and failed to make a single three pointer. The Gallo we'd come to depend on for consistent scoring was simply in absentia tonight. I'd describe Gallinari's play generously as "disinterested", at best. He apparently was bothered by a "thigh bruise", but the degree to which he appeared to be out of the game was extremely troubling. He scored just 6 points and recorded 3 rebounds in 23 ugly minutes. Injury or not, the Nuggets need more from Gallinari to have a chance to win.
Similarly, Kenneth Faried was outmatched all night by the Wizards frontcourt. Nene and Okafor manhandled the lost-looking Faried possession after possession. I will never, ever say that Faried doesn't give 100% every single time I've watched him on the floor, but sometimes he just doesn't have the defensive awareness (yet) to not be an utter liability against even semi-competent bigs. He also made a critical mistake on a fast break with around a minute to play, throwing the ball ahead of Wilson Chandler and nearly out of bounds, then let John Wall shoot a wide open jumper with 13 seconds remaining to essentially seal the game for the Wiz. I was extremely disappointed with Faried tonight after he notched just 6 points and 4 rebounds. Once again, the Nuggets are beaten on a pick and roll, and Faried is a prime culprit in its effectiveness against this team.
While JaVale McGee had some big dunks and big blocks against his former team, like Faried, he just wasn't showing the same degree of competitiveness that he has recently, routinely failing to box out his assignments and letting the Wizards kill the Nuggets on second chance points. Other than that, he wasn't a factor. Corey Brewer bricked four threes, Andre Iguodala failed to crack double figures again. What else is new?
Perhaps the only bright spots for Denver tonight was the play of Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler. Ty penetrated at will even against the imposing Okafor/Nene combo, slicing the Wizards up to the tune of 25 points and 12 assists. Chandler found his shot (Iguodala's still looking for his somewhere in Philadelphia) and scored 22 on 8-15 shooting. Andre Miller played decently, I guess, scoring 19 points and flubbing the final possession on a terrible layup attempt with 8 seconds to go, which may have given the Nuggets a chance. Whatever.
A very tough loss to swallow for a team that has now lost four straight on the road against beatable competition. Karl's said that there's a few times every year when he gets angry at the team's play. Tonight's "effort" is definitely deserving of one of those times where he needs to get in their faces.