The Denver Nuggets took on the ailing Washington Wizards on the road tonight without the Wizards’ best player, Bradley Beal, who is recovering from a lower leg injury. The Nuggets still were not able to come away with the win, as Troy Brown Jr. took over in the first half and Ish Smith followed suit in the second. Jamal Murray did everything he could to will his team to the victory, finishing with 39 points on 13/19 shooting, but it was not enough to get the win.
The Nuggets got off to a good start after four quick points by Will Barton and five from Nikola Jokic, including a three pointer. They forced the Wizards to take the first timeout after the game after getting off to a 9-2 lead. Coming out of the timeout, the Nuggets offensive struggles began, as they could not find the basket. After Thomas, who was aggressive against his former team, hit a three and had a nice assist to Thomas Bryant, the Wizards pulled within two. Then, Michael Porter Jr. checked in at just under the six-minute mark. The Nuggets continued to miss shots with their bench unit in, and after a jumper by Johnathan Williams, the Nuggets lost the lead for the first time, 15-13. It was all downhill from there, as the Nuggets ended the quarter by giving up a 27-8 run, going 1-11 from three. They trailed 31-19 after the first quarter, with Brown Jr. leading the way for the winning team with 9 points.
Brown Jr. stayed hot in the second quarter, as he helped his team obtain a 15-point lead, 39-24. Michael Malone decided to switch things up at this point, bringing in Juancho Hernangomez briefly to try to inject some energy into the lineup early in the second quarter. It was not until all of the starters came back, however, that the Nuggets started to catch up. Gary Harris had a nice dunk over 7’1 Anzejs Pasecniks to get things going for the Nuggets, and they went on an 12-0 scoring run to cut the lead to four. At halftime, the Nuggets only trailed by six points (61-55), despite 18 points from Brown Jr. Murray really came on strong at this time, finishing the half with 12 points on 5/9 shooting. Malik Beasley also made an appearance at the end of the half.
Capital One Arena fell silent after Gary Harris dunked on 7-2 center Anzejs Pasecniks. Sheesh. pic.twitter.com/fqLlMZJFAE— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) January 5, 2020
The Nuggets came out hot to start the second half, including five quick points from Murray, allowing the Nuggets to tie the game at 63-63. Murray then absolutely took over the game, scoring in a multitude of ways (including a breakaway windmill dunk following a steal on Thomas). Ish Smith also caught fire in this quarter, however. Despite Murray’s 18 points in the third quarter, Smith was able to keep the Nuggets at bay. Play after play, he drove to the basket to score or to find his open teammates. The Nuggets’ biggest weakness in this quarter was defending him, as without Smith’s contribution, the Nuggets would have been able to run away with the game behind Murray’s hot shooting. Smith finished the third with 19 points.
Jerami Grant and Beasley both had nice nights off the bench, and after a three-point play from Grant and a three-pointer by Beasley to start the fourth quarter, the Nuggets gained a three-point lead. Smith would not give the Nuggets a break, however, as he continued to tear apart their defense. Malone’s answer was to insert Torrey Craig into the bench lineup. This did not have an immediate effect, however, as Smith hit a nice reverse layup and then two jumpers to follow to keep increase the Wizards’ lead. Nikola Jokic, Harris and Murray were then inserted back into the game, but turnovers plagued the Nuggets and Smith continued to hit everything. With a little less than seven minutes to go in the fourth, the Wizards had a 110-101 lead after an 11-0 run that was spurred by Smith. Things got away from the Nuggets at this point, as Smith continued to build on his career night. He finished with 32 points and the Nuggets simply did not have an answer, losing 128-114.
Key Matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Isaiah Thomas sets the table for Ish Smith to come in and dominate
This was a matchup that Murray had to take advantage of. Thomas, for all his strengths, is too small to be able to effectively guard Murray. Murray got off to a slow start (0-3 from the field), but really found his confidence in the third quarter. He did everything possible to keep the Nuggets in this game, driving and finding his teammates, hitting tough jumpers, and trying his best to keep Thomas from scoring. Thomas, to nobody’s surprise, came out looking to be aggressive against his former team, and he was a reason why the Wizards got off to a good start. In the second half, however, Murray took it amongst himself to will the Nuggets back into the game. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, however, Thomas’ backup, Ish Smith, came in and absolutely took over the game. It was all over from there, as Smith stayed hot for a longer period of time than Murray did to will his team to the upset victory.
Main thing I noticed: No MPJ minutes in the second half until the game was over
This was somewhat of a letdown game for the Nuggets’ star rookie. A game after scoring a career high 25 points in 22 minutes, MPJ was not able to follow that up with as loud of a performance as many fans were hoping. He did score 5 points in the first half in just over 9 minutes, but due to the Nuggets’ poor start in the first half, Malone went to other options, including Hernangomez, Craig and Beasley. Malone was desperately trying to get some energy into the rotation to give his team a chance to win. This game is just more evidence of how many weapons Malone has on the bench, and Malone isn’t going to automatically go to MPJ when there’s other options that he feels more comfortable with.
Closing thought: The Nuggets need to get off to better starts
Although the Nuggets have proved that they can quickly climb back into games in which they let the other team get off to a big lead, the last thing they want to do is make slow starts a habit. Tonight, the Nuggets got off to an abysmal start, as they could not score and they let Brown Jr. get whatever he wanted on offense. The Nuggets have the talent to make up any deficit, but that is no excuse to keep getting off to such poor starts. As tonight proved, the Nuggets were still not able to complete the comeback even against a struggling Wizards team that was without their best player. They were able to regain the lead in the second half, but by that time, players such as Smith and Brown Jr. had already found their rhythm. This was a game that the Nuggets should have been able to get off to a big lead and hold onto it, but that was just not the case, as the Wizards had control for the majority of the 48 minutes.