It looked for one half Wednesday night that the Washington Wizards might have found the antidote for their recent woes: an opponent sliding nearly as badly as they are — the key word being nearly.
But at the start of the third quarter, Denver reminded those watching why it’s still the best team in the Western Conference. The Nuggets surged past the Wizards, 118-104, at Capital One Arena to hand Washington its fourth straight loss and its seventh defeat in the past eight games.
The Nuggets turned on the jets with a couple of early three-pointers after halftime that bloomed into a bevy of three-pointers — they went 7 for 10 in the third quarter — and for the second straight night, Washington (32-41) cracked open the door for its opponent with perimeter defense that wasn’t good enough.
“They do a terrific job of spacing. They’ve got some pretty good shooters surrounding a really good player,” Unseld said, referring to Nikola Jokic. “You double the post, put two on the ball, you’re getting it out of his hands, but he’s a unique player because of the way he can pass and the way he sees the floor.”
Jokic, a front-runner to win his third MVP award, led Denver (49-24) with 31 points and 12 rebounds to go with seven assists as he skirted double and triple teams all night. Four of those assists led to three-pointers, the result of the Nuggets having enough time to pass up good shots for great ones.
The Wizards didn’t help themselves with six turnovers in the third quarter, when Denver outscored them 39-16.
“We just fell short. We keep falling short. Nobody’s going to give us some gifts — ‘Hey, go win a game,’ ” said Kristaps Porzingis, who shouldered the load offensively with Beal and Kuzma out. “Nobody cares about how we feel, what we’re going through. We just have to keep looking at ourselves, each player individually, how we can play better defense, how we can recover better, prepare for every game — and then live with the result.”
Porzingis faced a tall task matching Denver without the help of the Wizards’ other pillars but led the way with 25 points. Deni Avdija, starting in place of Kuzma, had 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists in another aggressive showing. Corey Kispert started in Beal’s place and had nine points, three rebounds and two assists. Jordan Goodwin added 12 points off the bench.
The Nuggets had a 23-point lead early in the fourth quarter after ending the third with yet another three-pointer — this one by Jeff Green — and starting the final period with a pair of free throws by Bruce Brown. The Wizards cut their deficit to 10 with 6:58 to play on a reverse layup from rookie Johnny Davis, but Denver was in cruise control by then, having dictated from the perimeter.
The Nuggets finished with 15 three-pointers to the Wizards’ four. Beyond Jokic’s dominance, Michael Porter Jr. added 21 points (including six three-pointers) and seven rebounds.
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
Beal, Kuzma out
Kuzma missed his second straight game with a right ankle sprain — not a surprise after Unseld called it a “significant” sprain ahead of Tuesday’s loss at Orlando.
Beal, who has left knee soreness, missed his first game since Feb. 6.
Early minutes for Davis
Given Kuzma’s and Beal’s injuries and with the Wizards slipping in the standings, Unseld has been finding more minutes for Davis. The lottery pick, whose playing time has sharply increased over the past two weeks, played just four minutes Tuesday at Orlando but checked in midway through the first quarter with the Wizards leading by one. He had two points and an assist.
On Wednesday, he checked in with less than three minutes to play in the first quarter and the Wizards trailing by six. He finished with seven points on 3-for-9 shooting to go with three rebounds and four fouls in 23 minutes.
Points in the paint
The Wizards saw major improvement in at least one area Wednesday: The last time these teams met, on Dec. 14 in Denver, the Nuggets set an NBA record by scoring 98 points in the paint. They had a much more manageable 48 at Capital One Arena.