The Washington Wizards (16-37) unraveled the Denver Nuggets (34-22) 119-113 to tally their second win against a team looking to gain ground in the Western Conference.
For the first time this season, seven Wizards reached double-digit points, including Bradley Beal and Emeka Okafor, who each earned double-doubles and 17 points apiece.
“I think we got back to where we wanted to be before the [All Star] break started,” John Wall said after the game. “I think in Detroit and the game before this – when we played Toronto – we didn’t play like we had before the break started. We didn’t play as a team, we didn’t trust each other. Over the last two days of practice we got back to trusting each other and we came back to playing as a team tonight. Like I said, on any given night, you never know who’s going to be our leading scorer and that’s what’s good about this team.”
The Wizards made sure they were the first to the basket – in fact, John Wall connected with Nene, who slammed one in just seven seconds into the game.
The Wizards jumped in front with a 10-4 run, but Denver pulled back within five less than three minutes later, trimming Washington’s lead to just 15-10.
Pace was never the issue for the Wizards, who set a new season high for first-half scoring with 64 points. Unfortunately, so too, did the Nuggets reset a record for Washington by topping the previous season high for first-half points by an opponent, set by Dallas in November with 63.
Nevertheless, the Wizards did, at times, prove too fast for their own good, particularly with Wall leading the drives. With just under four minutes left in the first quarter, Wall crossed up Ty Lawson and faked a pass at the net, but then attempted to pitch the ball to Trevor Ariza in the corner before Ariza could get there.
Moments later, Wall drove to the net, seemingly ready to sink a layup, but he opted instead to kick it out and the Wizards came up empty on the play.
With the Wizards up by just two points, A.J. Price sank his first of four three-pointers with one second to go before the buzzer, to give Washington a 33-28 lead into the second quarter.
The boobirds sounded off for former Wizard JaVale McGee as he got things started early in the second quarter with an alley oop dunk, fed by Andre Iguodala.
Washington held the Nuggets at bay and Price added insurance points with back-to-back threes to make it 45-35 Wizards with 7:50 remaining in the half.
Trevor Ariza did his part to hold off Denver with a one-handed slam little more than a minute later, but Andre Miller rolled one in to spark a 5-0 run for the Nuggets.
With under a minute left, Iguodala completed a picture-perfect behind-the-back pass to Lawson, who laid one in to trim the Wizards’ lead to 62-60.
Denver continued to knock on Washington’s door until Kosta Koufos sank two free throws to send both teams to their respective locker rooms tied at 64 points apiece at the half.
Whatever defensive adjustments head coach Randy Wittman arranged for during the break played out big-time for the Wizards. Washington started the third quarter on a 13-0 run, boosted by a Wall-to-Martell Webster alley oop that brought the crowd of 16,527 to its feet.
“[Defense was] all we talked about at halftime,” Wittman said after the game. “We didn’t talk anything offensively. We got four straight stops coming out in the third quarter and I thought our intensity picked up from that defensive standpoint.”
Denver finally found the net five and a half minutes into the third, but the Wizards maintained momentum throughout the quarter.
In case McGee had any expectations for a warm welcome in D.C., Garrett Temple put them to rest by sinking a buzzer-beating jumper and drawing a foul off the former Wizard. With his free throw, Washington rounded out the third quarter with a seemingly monumental 94-78 lead.
But, in the fourth quarter, the Wizards ran low on whatever magic potion Wittman dreamt up at halftime. The Nuggets chipped away at Washington’s 16-point lead piece-by-piece.
With 6:37 left to play, the Nuggets pulled back within five on back-to-back free throws by Miller. Moments later, Wilson Chandler responded to Martell Webster’s two points with a layup and-1, but Okafor set the tone with a monster slam to keep the Wizards on top 102-95.
Denver continued to threaten but never gained enough steam. With 1:38 to go, Ariza all but sealed the deal for Washington with a 26-foot three assisted by Wall.
By the end of the night, the Wizards tallied 27 assists as part of their collaborative effort to halt the Nuggets for the second time this season.
Things nearly went up in smoke seconds later when Beal went down hard on a pump fake. Beal tumbled over and took several moments before walking back to the Wizards’ bench by his own power. He reentered the game on the next timeout in time to contribute two free throws towards the Wizards’ 119-113 win.