at WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Tip-off: Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Denver needs wins ASAP to get back in the playoff picture out West.With eight teams out West competing for the conference's final six playoff spots, two teams are bound to end up disappointed. After Monday's games, it was the Clippers and the Nuggets who were two games out of the No. 8 seed. After losing Chris Paul and trading Blake Griffin, Los Angeles is probably surprised to be even that close. An ascending Denver team, however, will be kicking itself if it loses out on the opportunity to season its young roster with a playoff series. The Nuggets entered Wednesday night's game in Chicago having lost seven of their last 12 games, and they'll need to turn things around quickly to even have a shot at a playoff spot. On Friday night they'll take the floor in Washington, where they'll face a Wizards team that still has a chance at the No. 3 seed in the East despite not having played particularly well as of late. These two teams have already played each other once, when Washington won 109-104 in Denver less than a week into the season. For the Wizards, star PG John Wall remains out indefinitely after having underwent knee surgery in late January. SG Gary Harris has been ruled for the Nuggets with a (less serious) knee injury of his own.
Harris is Denver's leader in scoring and steals, and he'll be missed on both ends of the floor. His first full-game absence with this injury game against a catastrophically bad Memphis team, and the Nuggets somehow managed to lose 101-94 without him. While Emmanuel Mudiay was pretty bad at basketball in Denver (and still is), trading him made the Nuggets pretty shallow in the backcourt. SF Will Barton got the start at the two against the Grizzlies, and he looked out of rhythm with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. On Monday at Miami, seemingly everyone was shooting well—including the Heat. Miami won 149-141 in double overtime. One great sign for Denver was that PF Paul Millsap played 45 minutes in his 11th game back from an injury that kept him out for the better part of the season. He appears to be back at full strength and, as one of their best players, will be relied upon heavily for this stretch run. Barton was better in the Miami game, scoring 22 points. C Nikola Jokic stuffed the stat sheet even fuller than usual, posting game highs in points and rebounds with 34 and 15, respectively. Second-year PF Jamal Murray, whose role is expanded the most with Harris out, delivered offensively with 23 points, although his 5-of-16 shooting could have been better. Shocking was the 26 points the team received from SF Wilson Chandler, who has generally been pretty useless this season. But he also dropped 26 against the Lakers last week, and appears to be rounding into form.
Even when Wall was playing, SG Bradley Beal has consistently been the Wizards' best player this season. Washington had a double-overtime tilt of its own recently, when they won 125-124 in a thrilled at Boston. Beal led all scorers with 34 points on 14-of-27 shooting. And while he's the clear leader on offense, that number of field goal attempts was anomalous for him—he was more efficient on Saturday with 19 points on 12 shots in a win over the Pacers, against whom the Wizards are competing for home-court advantage in the playoffs. He was one of five Wizards who scored in double-figures in that game. SF Kelly Oubre Jr. had 16 off the bench, further demonstrating the progress he's made this season to become of the league's most reliable sixth men. C Marcin Gortat had 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists, all representing higher output than normal this year for the aging Polish big. He was a game-best plus-22 against Indy, and similar performances going forward would be huge for Washington and its playoff hopes. SG Tomas Satoransky, one of the league's more underrated guards and a starter while Wall is out, pitched in 12 points, five rebounds and eight assists. PF Markieff Morris had 15 points, his fourth time in five games scoring at least that many points. SF Otto Porter had a quiet night with only eight points on 3-of-7 shooting. Porter is often quiet, but you'll rarely see him be inefficient.