Emeka Okafor won the opening tip against Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos, batting the ball to John Wall, who quickly found Nene for a dunk that gave the Washington Wizards the lead in just seven seconds.
The Wizards’ next 41 baskets weren’t quite as fast or easy, but the offense remained efficient as they held off a fierce Nuggets rally to snap a two-game losing streak with a 119-113 victory at Verizon Center.
With Okafor getting fourth-quarter minutes and having his way with the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried, Wall refusing to get down after a series of late mistakes, Trevor Ariza playing without a conscience and rookie Bradley Beal once again auditioning to become a crash-test dummy, the Wizards (16-37) swept their second season series against a Western Conference opponent.
“This was a quality win for us, in so many ways,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “To beat these guys twice is an accomplishment for our guys.”
With his team coming off losses to Detroit and Toronto — teams, like Washington, that are currently not in the playoff picture – Wittman wanted the Wizards to get back to being the free-flowing, ball-sharing team they were before the all-star break. They responded with a performance in which seven players scored in double figures and the team had 27 assists.
The Wizards didn’t necessarily have to go back to basics, or swing the ball with zip. Perhaps they merely needed to trade Jordan Crawford to the Boston Celtics (as they did just before the deadline). Or maybe all the Wizards really needed was another quality opponent. They have knocked off some of the league’s best teams at home, including Miami, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers and New York — and they also beat the Nuggets (34-22) when the teams met in Denver last month.
“That’s how it goes, I guess,” Okafor said after recording his 13th double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 rebounds. “Didn’t have our best showing against Toronto, so we wanted to make sure we come out here and have a good show, a good effort. Ball was moving, zipping around. Everybody was unselfish. Looking for the best shot available and moved the ball around until we got it.”
The Wizards had their second-highest scoring game of the season and allowed an opponent to reach triple digits for the first time since Jan. 25, a string of 11 consecutive games. This marked just the third time a Wizards opponent has scored 100 points or more since Wall made his debut on Jan. 12 after recovering from a knee injury.
Despite the game being an end-to-end shootout, the Wizards actually took control of the game in the third quarter with their defense. They held the Nuggets without a field goal and forced five turnovers through the first 5 minutes 21 seconds of the third quarter, scoring 13 unanswered points to take a 77-64 lead.
The lead was 18 early in the fourth, before Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (27 points, 12 assists), reserve swingman Wilson Chandler (22 points) and veteran Andre Miller (19 points) led a furious rally to get the Nuggets back within 110-107 with 2:27 remaining.
Denver had a chance to draw closer, but Beal blocked a layup attempt by Miller, and Ariza (16 points) then answered with a cold-blooded three-pointer with plenty of time on the shot clock.
With the Wizards up by four with two minutes remaining, Wall tried a fancy dribble with Faried guarding him and simply lost the ball. Faried threw the ball ahead to Andre Igoudala. Lawson eventually wound up with the basketball and pump-faked to get Beal off the ground. Beal bit and crashed to the floor, banging his head to the hardwood in the process. Okafor described the fall as “some type of gymnastics-worthy landing.”
It was the second time this season that Beal landed awkwardly in a game against the Nuggets. Beal has had a difficult two days, after chipping his front two teeth in a head-to-head collision with teammate Cartier Martin during Thursday’s practice and needing to visit the dentist for two hours to have his mouth repaired. Martin needed 15 stitches and claimed that pieces of Beal’s teeth actually had to be removed from his forehead.
“That’s me, young and reckless,” said the 19-year-old Beal, who finished with his second career double-double with 17 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. “Nothing hurts. I’m fine. It’s been a tough week. It is what it is.”
Lawson, a Prince George’s native who played at Bishop McNamara, made both free throws to bring Denver within 113-111, and Wall responded with an ugly runner that missed badly.
With an opportunity to tie the game, Lawson drove inside and former Nugget Nene (14 points) was there to greet his ex-teammate at the rim, blocking the shot. On the next possession, the Nuggets then left Wall wide open, daring him to take the jumper. This time, he buried it, giving the Wizards a crucial cushion as he raced down the floor to chest-bump his teammates on the bench. Wall finished with a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, and the Wizards are 11-9 since he returned.
“He’s trying to work his way into a flow. There’s ups and downs and you’ve got to fight through ’em,” Wittman said of Wall. “He didn’t not one time put his head down, sulked or pouted because he made a mistake. He was able to step up and make that shot.”