This is what happens to tired teams on the road. The Denver Nuggets could not find the right answers or make a shot down the stretch, and approached 30 turnovers in a 7 point loss to the Washington Wizards, 92-85. Mudiay missed the game with a somewhat suprising aggravation of his ankle injury, and Faried remained on the bench all game despite Chandler going 2-for-16 and obviously having no legs after last night’s heroics. That definitely seemed like a sending-the-message decision but it led to Denver’s first good start to a game in a while as they took a 20-8 lead. Bradley Beal’s 26 points and that river of turnovers were simply too much to overcome in the end.

The Nuggets started out by working toward a Gallo three that he missed, then getting a rebound and committing a turnover.  The Wizards then hit a three to perfectly illustrate Denver's season-long habits in the span of three possessions.  Both teams committed several turnovers but a Barton drive and then a Darrell Arthur three put Denver up 7-5.  The Wizards started cold from the field and Denver attacked the paint with Nurkic and Gallo.  Gallo's three made it 13-5 and Washington's 7 turnovers in the first 7 minutes were Nuggets-esque to be sure. Wilson Chandler hit a 3 with 4 minutes to go to put Denver up 20-8.  The bench struggled a bit, coughing up a 6-0 run but Washington's habit of turning the ball over continued and Denver hit a turnaround from Nikola Jokic at the buzzer to go up 29-18.

Denver blew some interior shots to start the second quarter and couldn't make a shot until Chandler's dunk with almost two minutes gone, despite some nice offensive rebounding.  Washington cut the deficit to 7, 31-24, but a beautiful Jokic-to-Murray three is a sight Denverites hope to see for many years and Jokic's follow-up put the lead back to 12. 

The Wizards turned up their defensive intensity and their reserves used some shot-making to cut the lead to 5, 38-33. Back-to-back threes from Arthur and Barton put it back to double digits. Denver's turnover problem reared its head (13 in the first half) letting the Wizards reeled the Nuggets back in to 46-40, and the teams traded buckets (and mistakes) the rest of the way, going to halftime with Denver up just 52-47.

The Nuggets started the second half going into Nurkic down low, with Nurkic getting two of Denver's first three buckets in the third quarter. A dispute between Nurkic and John Wall earned Wall a technical foul and Nurkic his fourth personal, though, and Nurkic was forced to sit. Both teams fought through a lot of contact and turnover issues but the lead remained 5 at 62-57 halfway through the quarter.  Bradley Beal hit a couple of buckets to tie it at 62 as the Nuggets went cold from the field and even Jokic's rebounding efforts could keep Denver in front. Washington took a 75-73 lead into the fourth with a 20-11 run down the stretch. 

Jamal Murray's three to start the 4th put Denver back in the lead, as Denver kept crashing the boards in the hopes that it would help their offense. Nurkic and Gallo pounded back-to-back dunks, but the Wizards fought back with a small run of their own – with the help of some more turnovers.  Balls out of bounds, simple mishandles of passes and other issues hampered Denver but despite obviously running out of energy on the second half of the back-to-back Denver kept fighting. Jokic hit a 16 footer to put Denver down 2, 85-83, but the turnover-fest continued in an unbelievably sloppy display.  

Washington could not pull away, but the Nuggets missed 14 straight 3-point shots and scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter as their legs deserted them.  In the end Denver just didn't have enough to pry the game away from a Washington team that played ugly but hard. The Wizards won 92-85 in Washington’s best defensive performance of the season – or what Denver fans would call a standard faceplant quarter to finish the game.

Three Thoughts:

Splitting Nurkic and Faried helps with or without Mudiay.  

The starters got out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, making it one of the few positive outings for that unit this year. Darrell Arthur spaced the paint far better than the Faried / Nurkic combo had been and gave Gallo some driving room while letting Nurkic pound away inside when the time was right. Faried did not see the court at all tonight as Malone stayed with floor spacers in Arthur, Chandler and Hernangomez as his options instead.  It didn't lead to a lot of paint points (14 in the first half, 28 for the game) but the spacing allowed for better passing as well (24 assists and it would have been more if anyone could have made a three). If the Nuggets can master that basic idea and simply give their players more room to operate while teams have to defend more of the floor, that lesson will pay huge dividends the rest of the year.

Turnovers were still a killer, with or without Mudiay.  Mudiay was out so he can't be blamed. Denver had a season-high 29 turnovers which is brutal. It's just too hard to win with that many turnovers and no outside shooting (7-of-32 for the game).  Malone can do all the rotation work he wants but if guys are just going to throw the ball away 25+ times a game the wins aren't going to come.  Once Malone does his part to make sure that the turnovers are not spacing or personnel disasters it’s on the players to fix the rest. There were so many silly turnovers in this game, many from veterans who should know better, that it became laughable down the stretch when Denver couldn’t get the ball up court without dribbling it off a foot or tossing it into the stands. That’s the sort of comedy Denver needs to do without the rest of the way.

The bench was tired, and then the starters followed suit.

A night after leading that tremendous comeback against the Nets, the bench didn't have it.  Faried did not play despite logging just 11 minutes last night, Chandler went 2-for-16 and Murray played 17 quiet minutes. Jameer had to start and play a lot of minutes, which drained the bench of some play-making. The team rebounded hard, winning that battle 45-35, and Jokic had a good (if sometimes sloppy) game, but the legs just weren't there to make shots late. Both the starters and the reserves had their tanks come up empty with Malone’s trust guys not able to perform and few fresh players to be found. The game was there to be had, but Denver couldn’t muster up the control it would take to bring the game home – which is basically the story of the season thus far.