Changes occurred Thursday, and they took shape with defense as the Wizards overcame a shaky first half to hold the Denver Nuggets to 33 points in the second half of a 92-85 victory.
Bradley Beal led all scorers (26 points, 3 rebounds), followed by Markieff Morris (15 points, 4 assists). John Wall, who set a career-high Tuesday with 52, had a relatively quiet evening (15 points, 5 assists, 7 rebounds).
But it was how they defended after the intermission that proved to be the difference.
Nikola Jokic (17 points, 11 rebounds) led the Nuggets followed by Danilo Gallinari (14 points), Jusuf Nurkic (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Will Barton (11 points).
--Morris hasn’t played well defensively in a while, and the way he started the fourth helped Denver regain the lead. Marcin Gortat had to help Trey Burke slow down Jamal Murray from turning the corner on a screen and had to run back to get in position on Nurkic. Morris, however, released him prematurely which allowed the easy pass and the dunk before the center could recover. Then Gallinari converted a three-point play on a reach-in from Morris the next time down.
-- Wall spent a lot of plays in half-court sets off the ball while Beal ran the offense, including at the end of the first half, and it produced. He was able to attack off the dribble on the ball reversal and get into the paint either from the corners or the slot. It didn’t necessarily lead to baskets for Wall but the ball movement was better and it took advantage of Denver for committing so much attention to Beal on the strongside. When Beal tied the score at 62, it was with Wall off ball getting the ball back to him for an open 3. And Beal ended the third quarter the same way – handling the ball and running the offense. He drew a foul.
-- Nurkic picked up his fourth personal foul early in the third quarter when he set a screen that wiped out Wall. Wall retaliated after getting knocked out of bounds to receive his fifth technical foul of the season. That’ll cost him another $2,000.
--Kelly Oubre (8 points, 5 rebounds) entered the game midway through the first quarter for Morris and applied ball pressure that helped the Wizards with deflections and added energy that they’d been missing at the start. He also ended the game while Morris sat as his energy grew contagious.
--Burke, again playing ahead of Tomas Satoransky, is at least finding his shot much better not having as many ball-handling responsibilities. He had six points in seven minutes of the first half, shooting 3-for-4.
--The second unit, which has been under fire all season for lackluster performances on both ends of the floor, did its job in the first half. Oubre, Jason Smith, Marcus Thornton, Andrew Nicholson and Burke all were on the plus side of the plus-minus rating. All five starters were in the minus.
--Turnovers fueled Denver’s offense. They forced eight from the Wizards in the first quarter alone to get out to a 14-point lead and enter the second ahead 29-18.