DENVER — The lane had never looked more open for John Wall on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, so he lowered his shoulder, blew past Ty Lawson and attempted to sneak in a quick reverse layup before the defense could react. As Wall looked over his shoulder to see whether the shot would drop, however, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried had already smacked it into the front row.
Faried then tapped his forehead and saluted a boisterous crowd at Pepsi Center as a stunned Wall bounced around, wondering what happened. The Nuggets certainly played a role in denying the Washington Wizards in their attempt to split a four-game road trip against Western Conference opponents. But to find the primary culprit in their 105-102 loss to the injury-riddled Nuggets, the Wizards won’t have to look much further than the mirror.
“We beat ourselves,” said backup point guard Andre Miller, who made a disappointing return against his former team roughly a month after the Wizards acquired him in exchange for former lottery pick Jan Vesely.
The Wizards were too careless with the basketball, throwing it to yellow jerseys at almost every turn and tossing it at ankles, knees and no one in particular at other times. They committed a season-high 24 turnovers, which the Nuggets converted into 30 points.
With the Wizards trailing by four with 10 seconds remaining, Trevor Ariza caught a pass from Bradley Beal, fumbled the ball between his legs and watched it roll right into the hands of Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur.
“You’re not going to beat anybody with 24 turnovers,” a flustered Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said after the game. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or who’s playing or not playing or where you’re playing at.”
Before embarking on a road trip Wall said would define the season, the Wizards spoke of the importance of trying to win all four — or at least three — to maintain their push for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But even in their lone victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington never played with the urgency required to make any moves in the standings. The loss to Denver was evident of a team lacking the proper focus as the Wizards took an early 14-point lead and then took a nap.
“This is one of those games where we thought we was going to show up and just win the game versus showing up and taking the game,” Drew Gooden said after coming off the bench to score 15 points.
Washington (36-34) is now looking up to Brooklyn in the standings and barely holding off seventh-place Charlotte after going 1-3. Wall had bookend bad games on the road trip, missing two clutch free throws in Sacramento and struggling to get going in Denver, where he had 15 points and four assists but also had eight turnovers.
As a result, the Wizards’ offense was out of sorts. Washington shot just 5 for 16 from three-point range, with Beal connecting on three of them and finishing with a team-high 21 points. Ariza had 18 points, and Marcin Gortat had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Nuggets (32-38) are out of the playoff picture in the stacked Western Conference, but they still have some talented pieces, with Faried scoring a game-high 20 points and former Wizard Randy Foye connecting on five three-pointers and scoring 17. Five Nuggets scored in double figures, with Denver’s bench accounting for 52 points.
“I think we just relaxed again,” Gortat said. “One thing we have to learn as a team is to hit the team, to punch the team at different times, give them the main KO and make sure they don’t get up. But we’re just not capable of doing that.”
Miller came back to face the Nuggets for the first time since an ugly divorce that came after a public spat on the bench with Denver Coach Brian Shaw. Wittman sent Miller to the scorers’ table near the end of the first quarter.
After he removed his warmups and adjusted his shorts preparing to enter the game, Miller spotted Shaw about 10 feet away talking to Nuggets reserve Quincy Miller and extended his hand to Shaw. Shaw grabbed Andre Miller’s hand and pulled him in, and the two had a brief but cordial conversation.
“I told him, ‘For what it’s worth, I’m sorry it turned out the way that it did,’ ” Shaw said afterward, adding that he also told Miller, “Good luck.”
Miller had just two points and an assist in 13 minutes and heard a smattering of boos after he barreled his way inside for a layup to give the Wizards a 37-32 lead. “I tried not to say too much to the players. I think they knew I wanted to come in here and get a win,” Miller said.
Vesely had the same motivation as he faced a team that he felt never gave him a fair shot after drafting him sixth overall in 2011. With the already banged up Nuggets losing J.J. Hickson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Friday and then Wilson Chandler before the game with a hip strain, the seldom-used Vesely made the most of his opportunity and scored 10 points before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a rib contusion.
“We’ve given games away,” Wittman said. “We can’t down the stretch. That’s where they’ve got to grow up. When you give a couple of games away like we did, that doesn’t send a message of where our thought process is this game.”