The Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets aim to complete a five-game road swing with a winning record when they visit the slumping Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
Denver (48-24) alternated losses and wins through the first four games of the trip, most recently scoring a 108-102 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.
The Nuggets saw a 20-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter reach 22 points, only for the advantage to be whittled down to six by the final buzzer, a result of scoring just 17 points in the period.
“Just told our players, ‘You’re up 22 points in the fourth quarter and you start messing around with the game and they cut a 22-point lead to seven and you’ve got to put all your starters back in to close the game, and that shouldn’t be the case,'” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Now we’re 2-2 on this trip; we’ve got a chance to go 3-2. It’ll be a tough game down in D.C.”
Reigning two-time Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic recorded his 28th triple-double of the season in the win, posting 22 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Nuggets’ last meeting with Washington was not one of those 28 games, with a Jokic triple-double, but he did register his season high in scoring against the Wizards with 43 points on Dec. 14.
Jokic also grabbed 14 rebounds, dished eight assists and made a season-high five steals in the Nuggets’ 141-128 home win. Michael Porter Jr., who scored a game-high 28 points Sunday in Brooklyn, did not play the last time Denver faced Washington.
Washington (32-40) returns home for the Wednesday contest that will complete a back-to-back set. The Wizards ran out of steam in a 122-112 road loss to the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.
Kristaps Porzingis returned to the lineup after missing the Wizards’ previous outing Saturday against Sacramento because of an illness, and he scored a game-high 30 points. Washington was without Kyle Kuzma due to an ankle sprain, however, and the Wizards were outscored 35-24 in the fourth quarter after entering the period with a one-point lead.
“Just some of the detail stuff,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of the difference down the stretch. “If there’s a 50-50 here. If there’s coverage confusion that leads to a 3. Our margin of error tonight was really thin. … Those little plays, they become magnified.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Unseld said Kuzma’s sprain was “pretty significant.” Kuzma’s potentially continued absence compounds a trying stretch for the Wizards.
The defeat against the Magic marked Washington’s third straight and sixth in the past seven games. It was the fifth time over that stretch in which the Wizards surrendered more than their season defensive scoring average of 113.6 points per game.
Washington is tied with the Indiana Pacers (32-40) for 11th place in the Eastern Conference, with both teams 2 1/2 games behind the 10th-place Chicago Bulls (34-37) in the chase for the final spot in the East’s play-in tournament.
“We’re playing the games we’re going to play and our best chance to win is by sticking together,” Wizards forward Corey Kispert said. “That’s simple math, and everybody around here knows that. As hard as it is sometimes, good teams come together when things get tough. … We’ve got to do everything we can to get out of this rut.”