Every game in the NBA matters, but the one between the host Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards on Wednesday night might have a little more meaning.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts. Washington head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was an assistant on Denver head coach Michael Malone’s staff, while Monte Morris and Will Barton were integral parts of the Nuggets’ recent rise from the lottery to postseason mainstays.
It is also a reunion for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was traded to Denver by the Wizards last offseason — a deal which included Morris and Barton.
More important for Washington is pulling out of its funk on Wednesday night. The Wizards have lost seven in a row and 10 of their last 11, in part due to injuries that got worse in Monday’s loss to Brooklyn. Kristaps Porzingis left the game in the third quarter with lower back tightness and may not be available Wednesday night.
If he cannot go, he joins Morris (groin), Bradley Beal (hamstring), Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Delon Wright (hamstring) on the sidelines. Morris has missed two games and Beal four, while Hachimura and Wright have been out for an extended period.
Unseld said it is hard to practice with so many players out.
“We’ll still show the film, show mistakes, and you can teach that way. We’re not going to be able to do a ton on the floor with how short we are on bodies,” Unseld said. “It’s that fine line. You want to keep guys encouraged, but at the same time, if we minimize some of these mistakes, the turnout could be different.”
Denver is close to full health, although Michael Porter Jr. (heel) remains out with no timetable for his return. The Nuggets are a deeper team than in past seasons and have been able to overcome Porter’s absence the past two games — a road win Thursday at Portland and a home victory against Utah on Saturday night.
Jamal Murray was instrumental in both, while also posting a fourth quarter at the Trail Blazers that was reminiscent of his play before he tore his left ACL in April 2021. He missed all of last year and Morris stepped in as the starting point guard. He averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 assists in 75 games (74 starts) for Denver and ranks second on Washington in assists this season with a career-best 5.2 per game.
Barton is coming off one of his best games with the Wizards with a season-high 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists after missing two games with foot soreness.
“I was just thinking too much — ‘Should I do this? Should I do that?’ — instead of really going out there and playing basketball carefree,” Barton said. “That’s when I’m at my best.”
Wednesday night will be the first time Barton and Morris — if the latter can play — face Denver since the trade. Malone praised what each player meant to the Nuggets in their time with the team.
“Both of those guys deserve a lot of credit and gratitude for what they brought to this team,” he said.
–Field Level Media