Still fresh off an ownership change and complete organizational overhaul, the Wizards are fielding a roster that could easily pass in the D League. Other than John Wall I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at tonight. This is a time of the season where you can begin to see a tangible difference between teams that are playing for something and those that are not. Despite some understandable skepticism surrounding their postseason chances, the Nuggets are firmly in contention and playing the best basketball Denver has seen in years. Behind the 12-4 post trade record we’ve also seen a sense of pride and purpose in old and new Nuggets alike. Add that to the fact Washington has only one road victory in 35 tries this year and it’s hard to imagine this as anything other than a routine Nuggets win.
Even without starters Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler available, the Nuggets could start the end of their bench and still match the overall talent level of the Wiz. Tonight it was Gary Forbes officially starting but once again the Nuggets’ depth attacking from so many angles it’s hard to argue that who starts has anything to do with the game whatsoever. Much like the Raptors game earlier in the week, the “shorthanded” Nuggets entertained their opponent with a few brief moments of competition early and firmly slammed the door shut by the end of the first quarter. From then on it became a team building exercise in which struggling Nuggets took turns with seldom-used reserves practicing their game on the punching bag that tonight was the Washington Wizards.
As the stats have shown, Denver is not only still the offensive monster they were before the trade – they are stronger. Tonight it was again seven in double figures, although Denver’s leading scorer only had 17. The caveat is Denver’s leading scorer was 4 different guys and they all had 17. Factor in 48 points in the paint and 29 assists on 42 makes and you have a blowout win in which only 3 guys played more than 30 minutes. That is just too many scorers doing too much damage too efficiently. Even great offensive teams would struggle to keep up and the Wizards did not.
The defense is where the change has been most remarkable though. Yes, the Wizards were disengaged and looked genuinely interested in the game for about 10% of it, but even in garbage time the Wizards were getting beat worse than when the game was competitive. The Nuggets destroyed Washington’s ball movement early and never let up. Every loose ball and momentum changing stop went to the Nuggets tonight. They were not only the better team, they wanted it more and even in a completely defense-optional scenario Denver’s improvement continues to show.
The story of the game was no doubt Chris Andersen’s domination. He finished with a double-double adding 5 blocks for good measure as well. Birdman struggled against San Antonio and only found his way on the court for five uninspiring minutes, but followed it up with perhaps the best game of his career in 21 minutes. Birdman is engaged and active on the offensive end as one of the primary screen and roll targets for Raymond Felton and JR Smith. With those two controlling the offense for a good part of the night, the table was set for Birdman’s bounce-back game and he rewarded Denver for making him part of the team on the offensive side of the ball. Tonight was a glimpse at the gamechanging defensive presence we have seen out of Birdman in spurts that has always been overshadowed by his limitations on offense and mental focus. Birdman is clearly benefiting from being looked at a role player who can contribute on more than just one side of the ball.
Denver needed to get this win comfortably, and they did so without ever letting a seed of doubt creep in. What’s better is that Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo got extra days to rest their injuries as the tougher part of the schedule looms ahead. All Denver had to do was get this game over with and win one that both the fans and the organization would have a hard time getting pumped up about. To do it in such dominating fashion to an extent there is literally not a single area to complain about is impressive though.
Pace Factor: 94.4 – Slower than usual, but it was a blowout and no starters had much of a role
Offensive Efficiency: 120.8 – It was easy, four players had 17 and JR got 14
Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 – Not even necessary, but solid. Washington is not good but why not play some defense in a blowout? The pre-trade team never did this