Nuggets brace for test from fast-paced Wizards

NBA

The Denver Nuggets’ improved defense is going to get a strong challenge from a young, fast-paced team on Tuesday night.

The Washington Wizards take the NBA’s second-ranked offense into Denver on Tuesday night to battle the Nuggets’ top-rated defense, so it will be strength on strength. The team that imposes its will should be the one that comes out on top.

The Wizards have a young and inexperienced team right now, which is a change from earlier seasons when they were competing among the best in the Eastern Conference. Despite that youth and a chemistry that is still forming Washington has been able to put up points (119.1 per game entering Monday’s play).

“We have a lot of pieces that can be in there at the same time,” Thomas Bryant, one of the few holdovers from the recent years, told the Washington Post. “We try to build chemistry day in and day out with practice. No matter who’s in the game toward the end, you try to have that trust and develop that talk on the defensive end with each other.”

While Washington is a young team one veteran is going to have a reunion with his old squad. Guard Isaiah Thomas returns to Denver after spending last season on the Nuggets’ roster. The 30-year-old missed the first half of the 2018-19 season recovering from hip surgery and then fell out of the rotation during Denver’s stretch run and into the playoffs.

The two-time All-Star is averaging 12.8 points in 24.7 minutes per game in 12 games (nine starts this season.

The Wizards are coming off a disappointing home loss to Sacramento on Sunday and now go against one of the best teams in the NBA. Denver is on a five-game winning streak and has won nine of its last 10, helping the Nuggets to the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Much of the Nuggets’ early-season success can be attributed to their defense. It was a liability a couple of years ago — ranking 22nd in the league in scoring defense in 2017-18. But the Nuggets improved to sixth last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

This season it has become even better and they are allowing 101.7 points per game. In Sunday’s comeback win over Phoenix, Denver held the Suns to 47 points in the second half and just 20 in the third quarter, when the game turned in the Nuggets’ favor.

Coach Mike Malone has preached defense since he was hired four years ago and the lessons are starting to sink in. The players are also finding that good defense leads to easier offense.

“The defense is always the trigger that ignites our break and how we play,” Malone said after the 116-104 win over Phoenix. “When you’re taking the ball out of the net time and time again it’s hard to get out and run and create that pace and tempo we like to play with.”

If there has been one weakness for Denver it is the bench, which has struggled to score at times, putting more responsibility on the starters. Sunday it was the reserves that got stops and turned a seven-point deficit into a lead.

The Wizards are heading into one of their toughest stretches of the season. Tuesday is the start of a four-game Western Conference road swing, which also includes games against the Suns, and the two Los Angeles teams – the Lakers and Clippers. Of Washington’s next 16 games, 12 are away from home.

–Field Level Media

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