It was retro night in the nation's capitol for the Denver Nuggets and the Baltimore Bullets (aka the Washington Wizards). The Bullets were paying homage to their old nickname and the Nuggets were paying homage to the George Karl/Doug Moe days as they surprisingly pushed the pace all night. Denver looked like anything but a team who had been playing the night before with their consistent energy in one of the better victories of the season. It was not always the prettiest, but a fairly high paced game broke out in Washington the Nuggets were able to come out on top in the end, 117-113.
The first quarter was pretty difficult to watch at times. It started out well for Denver, with rookie Emmanuel Mudiay leading the charge on a 10-2 run to open up the game. Mudiay was finding easy baskets as well as his teammates and quickly had seven points. Unfortunately, the Bullets responded with a 10-2 run of their own which was led by Nene Hilario. Nene had no problem posting up Kenneth Faried down low and consistently was able to get points close to the basket. Both teams started trading fouls and turnovers and the game became a pretty ugly back and forth affair. The first quarter ended in a 29-29 tie.
After some more back and forth to open the second quarter the Nuggets nailed back to back three pointers from Jameer Nelson and Darrell Arthur to get the lead 39-33. The improvement on offense was noticeable with having Nelson back. Instead of a complete drop off in offensive cohesiveness and ball movement with Randy Foye running the offense when Mudiay comes out, Denver was able to keep up the work on offense. Hometown kid Will Barton pushed the pace to help the Nuggets to a 13-2 run. The downside was Nelson found himself matched up against John Wall which keyed an 8-0 run by the Bullets and Denver's lead was trimmed to 44-41.
Jusuf Nurkic was also very solid in the second. He got around 8 minutes of action and tallied four points and three rebounds in that time while also presenting a far greater challenge for Nene when he went to post up. Once Nikola Jokic replaced Nurkic there was no drop off as Nikola did what Nikola does: excellent footwork, soft touch and some Dirkesque shooting. Yet, despite all the good play Denver just couldn't open up a big lead on the Bullets who kept getting fast breaks. To close out the quarter Gary Harris and Mudiay got back to back steals which led to break away dunks but fouls, open shots and flat out John Wall speed for the Bullets made it a 6 point game at half, 64-58.
Highlight via Michael Gallagher of Yahoo! Sports
Both teams continued to push the pace out of the half and Jokic opened up with a mid range shot and then a floater in the lane. Nikola truly had everything working tonight but on the Bullets side Gortat and Nene were able to keep getting points in the paint. Danilo Gallinari started getting it going in the third, with a quick five points that forced the Bullets to call timeout trailing 75-65. No timeout was going to help the Bullets stop Jokic though. He came out of the TO with an offensive rebound followed by a floater followed by a steal followed by an assist to Gallo in the corner and then another assist to Gallo in the corner. The whole sequence finished off an 11-0 run by the Nuggets and the lead ballooned to 18 points.
Once again though just when it looked like Denver was going to bury the hatchet they instead faltered. The bench started checking in and the Bullets went on an 11-2 run to pull the lead back to nine points. The not often heralded Garrett Temple continued to hurt Denver in conjunction with Wall and Gortat. The teams started trading fouls to close out the quarter which worked to a disadvantage for Denver who was struggling from the line. A beautiful pass from Nurkic led to an Arthur and 1 and Denver closed out the quarter with a twelve point lead, 91-79.
Denver was full bench to open the fourth and the Bullets responded with with two quick buckets. Add in some sloppy play by the Nuggets and the lead dwindled to six points which forced coach Michael Malone to take a time out. Nene figured out that he couldn't power through Nurkic but could use his speed to get around him and Malone quickly got Jokic back into the game. Things started to get testy between Jokic and Nene and a double foul call gave Nikola his fifth foul with still eight minutes to go in the game. The momentum started turning in Washington's favor and the crowd was getting involved with the lead getting down to two points at 97-95.
The starters began to check back in to try to stop the bleeding. Interestingly Malone pulled Jokic back out and went with the starters plus Barton to close out the game. Mudiay started reverting into his bad habits and turned the ball over which led to a Ramon Sessions and 1 to tie the game up at 99 all. Gary Harris hit a three and then there was several sloppy possessions before big game hunter Gallo nailed an in your face three. Garret freaking Temple came back with a three of his own and the Bullets trimmed it to two. Big Game Hunter nailed a tough fade away and then both teams traded missed shots until Mudiay was fouled and sunk two clutch free throw with 29 seconds left to get the lead back to six. There was some free throws and time outs exchanged and ultimately Denver prevailed
Key match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs John Wall
Mudiay really opened strong tonight and that helped him have a solid night scoring. He very much so went toe to toe with Wall who was less than stellar shooting and made some costly late game turnovers. For as many comparisons though that have been made between the two players, Mudiay will never have the incredible speed that Wall does. Wall had a couple of possessions where he simply blew by everyone on the floor and either got an easy basket for himself or for someone else on the Bullets. He also consistently was able to chase guys down from behind for blocks. He flirted witha triple double, ending with 17pts, 9asts, 7 rebs and 3 TOs. Mudiay ended the game with 20pts, 4 asts, 4 rebs and 4 TOs
Key thing to watch for: who the heck is going to play at the four and five?
Ironically, only Joffrey Lauvergne was the only no go despite Jokic and Arthur also being listed questionable on the injury report. Denver definitely was glad to have Jokic available as he consistently was a handful for Gortat and Nene. He flashed his great passing, his excellent post footwork, his ability to fade and his quick hands on defense consistently throughout the night. Arthur also had a solid night and along with Barton was the only one making positive contributions from the bench. It was disappointing that Malone didn't stick with Jokic to finish out the game but the rookie still managed to get a double double in only 25 minutes.
Bullets forever indeed
The retro night ended up being a letdown. It was really a retro night in name only, sure the scoreboard said bullets and Altitude put the Baltimore abbreviation next to Washington's score but that's really where the throwback stopped. Instead of wearing actual throwback Bullet jerseys, Washington wore pseudo throwback sleeved jerseys and the Nuggets were in their standard road blues. Like our old friend Nate Timmons said on Twitter, if you're going to do a throwback night either do it all the way or not at all.
Prediction: Huzzah! The reverse curse worked, in predicting a loss I clearly set the team up for victory!
Boxscore via ESPN.com