Chase Hughes

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Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets present a new challenge Wizards haven't faced in months

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets present a new challenge Wizards haven't faced in months

Now 72 games into the 2018-19 regular season, the Wizards will finally get their first look at one of the most improved teams in the NBA. On Thursday night, the Wizards welcome the Denver Nuggets to town for a 7 p.m. tip on NBC Sports Washington. 

That means the Wizards will face off with star center Nikola Jokic for the first time this season. Jokic, 24, is likely to receive MVP votes with averages of 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. He is a certified superstar with the team results to back up his resume.

He and the Nuggets are in contention for the top record in the Western Conference. They trail the Warriors by just a half a game as they ride a four-game winning streak.

The Wizards, meanwhile, are nearing playoff elimination. After losing three of their last four, they stare at a 5 1/2 game gap between them and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. At this point, it may be a matter of when and not if they will make the postseason, as the Miami Heat have taken firm control over the No. 8 spot.

The Wizards are likely safe to plan their summer vacations, but they may be able to put up a respectable fight against Denver. The Wizards are particularly good at home with a 22-14 record in Washington compared to an 8-28 elsewhere.

They also, for whatever reason, happen to be very good in the second game of back-to-backs. After losing on Wednesday night in Chicago, they are 2-12 in the first games, but they boast a 9-4 record in the second ones.

Denver wouldn't be the first good team the Wizards have beaten on zero days rest. They have wins against the Heat, Nets, Sixers and Pacers in those scenarios.

The Nuggets, though, are better than all of those teams. In addition to Jokic, they have Jamal Murray (18.2 ppg, 37.5 3PT%), Gary Harris (13.5 ppg), Paul Millsap (13 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and a deep bench.

Denver is good on both ends of the floor. They are third in offensive rating (114), 10th in defensive rating (108.9) and they allow the sixth-fewest points (107/g).
At 47-22, the Nuggets are on pace for 56 wins. That would mark their second-best season since the 1970s.

The Nuggets are one of the fastest rising teams in the NBA. The Wizards, at least this season, are trending in the other direction. It may be the biggest challenge Washington has faced in months.

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Wizards' loss to Bulls ensures they'll finish under .500 as clock ticks down on season

Wizards' loss to Bulls ensures they'll finish under .500 as clock ticks down on season

The Washington Wizards lost to the Chicago Bulls 126-120 on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Among the Wizards shortcomings this season, road games and the first games of back-to-backs have been their most stubborn bugaboos. On Wednesday, those problems loomed large against a Chicago Bulls team that already isn't good and was missing several key players.

The Bulls were without Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr., among others, yet the Wizards still couldn't take advantage. They are now 8-28 on the road this season. Only four teams have been worse. Washington is now 2-12 in the first games of back-to-backs.

The Wizards have lost three of four and two straight. Only 10 games remain in the season and they are 30-42. At this point, it might take a miracle for them to make the playoffs. 

2. Well, at least Jabari Parker enjoyed himself.

Parker has made it no secret he was not happy with his time in Chicago and more specifically how coach Jim Boylen treated him. He clearly has an ax to grind against the Bulls.

On Wednesday, Parker was a force with 28 points in 38 minutes. He shot 3-for-5 from three and had six rebounds and two blocks.

3. Bobby Portis also got some revenge on his former team, in a way. He was called for a Flagrant 1 foul late in the fourth quarter when he smacked Lauri Markkanen in the face on a rebound attempt.

It was hard to tell even on slow-motion replays if the contact was intentional or inadvertent, but he got Markkanen pretty good.

This, of course, isn't the first time Portis has hit a Bulls player in the face. The last time earned him an eight-game suspension and an awkward locker room at United Center.

4. The second half began with some injury news, as Trevor Ariza was ruled out during halftime with a groin strain. The severity wasn't initially clear and we probably won't know until at least tomorrow how serious it is.

At this point, with the Wizards fading into the pack in the playoff race, there is no reason to push it. Even if the injury is minor, it would make sense if he didn't play on Thursday against the Nuggets in the second game of a back-to-back.

Ariza, of course, also has his contract future in mind. He has 10 games left in this season before he hits free agency. And as the Wizards get closer and closer to elimination, we could see some changes in how players like Ariza and others are treated in terms of minutes restrictions.

5. Troy Brown Jr. started in Ariza's place to begin the second half and ended up logging 30 minutes on the night. He played well with nine points and a career-high 10 rebounds.

Whether Ariza misses time or not, Brown should get more minutes going forward. There is no reason why he shouldn't play at least 20 minutes, if not something closer to 30 minutes, each night for the rest of the season.

Not only has Brown played well enough to earn a larger role, having shown the promise expected of a 15th overall pick, but the Wizards need to develop him into a legitimate rotation piece for next season.

With John Wall likely to miss most of next season, if not all of it, due to injury, they need Brown to be a factor. It would really help if he could continue to improve as a point guard and serve as at least a primary backup to Tomas Satoransky or whoever starts at the position next year.

The future should be now for Brown.

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With Wizards and Bulls squaring off, what are the early returns on the Otto Porter Jr. trade?

With Wizards and Bulls squaring off, what are the early returns on the Otto Porter Jr. trade?

Forty two days have passed since the Feb. 6 trade between the Wizards and the Bulls, a deal that started a new era of sorts in Washington with the departure of Otto Porter Jr., a former third overall pick who had stuck with the franchise for a second contract. 

Though the confusion of that first night, as the Wizards informed Porter just before a game against the Bucks, has passed, both teams are still sorting things out and evaluating what they have as the end of the season nears.

Porter won't play on Wednesday night due to a shoulder injury as the Wizards battle the Bulls in Chicago at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. But as these teams square off now over a month later, it seems like a good time to look at how the deal has gone for them so far.

Basically, neither team has really taken off. The Wizards are 8-9 since the trade and the Bulls are 8-10. Porter has put up strong numbers, but has missed time due to various injuries. Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, the two players the Wizards acquired from Chicago, have also improved from their season stats while ostensibly benefiting from a change in scenery.

Porter averaged 12.6 points and shot 45.7 from the field and 36.9 percent from three with the Wizards this season. With the Bulls, he has put up 17.5 points while shooting 48.3 percent overall and 48.8 percent from long range. 

Perhaps most notable is the fact he's taking 13.4 total shots and 5.3 per game from three. Both would be career-highs if held for an entire season. For years, the narrative about him in D.C. was that he either wasn't aggressive enough to create his own shots or the Wizards failed him by not running plays with him in mind.

Parker has simply been much more efficient with the Wizards than he was in Chicago. He's averaging about the same amount of points - 14.8 compared to 14.3 with the Bulls - but his effective field goal percentage has raised from 51.4 to 60.7. The latter would rank seventh in the NBA if it qualified for leaderboards.

Portis is putting up 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, both of which would be career-highs if carried for a full season. And he's shooting 45.6 percent from three, well above the 37.5 percent clip he posted in Chicago this year.

Both teams, interestingly enough, have seen a surge on offense. The Bulls are 23rd on the season in points scored (105.3), but since adding Porter are ninth, averaging nearly 10 more points per game (115). The Wizards are seventh on the season points (114.4), but since the deal top the entire league with 117.5 per game. 

Defensively, it has been a different story. Both the Wizards and Bulls rank in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive rating. Both teams were bad at defending before the deals and haven't shown improvement.

This trade, of course, will ultimately be judged for what happens well beyond this season. The Wizards gave up a valuable asset in Porter, who is only 25 and is under contract for two more years, albeit at arguably a steep price for his production. His contract loomed large in Washington, but can be viewed differently in Chicago because of their otherwise cheap roster of young talent.

Parker and Portis are both likely to hit free agency this offseason, Portis as a restricted free agent. Parker has a team option, but at $20 million it is unlikely to be picked up.

The Wizards could keep both of them, one or neither of them this offseason. And whichever way they go will significantly affect the way the trade is evaluated. If they part with either, the financial flexibility they will then get will have bearing on how the deal is graded.

But for now, both teams seem to be doing well with the pieces they got. All three have improved their numbers in the short period of time they have played with their new teams.

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