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Out to halt 3-game slide, healthy Nuggets face lowly Wizards

Feb 14, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives around Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis (10) in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are the reigning NBA champions but had only one player named to the All-Star Game — two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Some consider it a slight, but the glass-half-full view is that the rest of the team got a week off to rest and heal.

Denver took advantage as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jamal Murray are listed as probable to return to the lineup when the Nuggets host the reeling Washington Wizards on Thursday night to open the second half of the season.

Caldwell-Pope missed three of the past four games with a right hamstring injury and Murray sat out the last game before the break with a lower right leg injury. Both practiced fully when the Nuggets reconvened Tuesday night.

The one player excused from the practice was Jokic because he had participated in the All-Star Game on Sunday night. He was at the Nuggets’ arena Tuesday but was there to watch the Colorado Avalanche’s win over the Vancouver Canucks with his young daughter.

Jokic will be back to work Thursday to try to help Denver end a three-game skid. The Nuggets have dropped to fourth in the Western Conference, three games behind the first-place Minnesota Timberwolves, and need a strong push in the final 27 games to secure home-court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.

Michael Porter Jr. said the goal is to find that postseason level in the final two months of the regular season.

“We want to play a style of basketball that we really feel comfortable with going into the playoffs — offensively and defensively,” he said.

The Nuggets’ second half starts against the lowly Wizards, who have lost eight straight and still haven’t reached double-digit victories this season. Only the Detroit Pistons, with eight wins, have fewer victories.

Washington shook things up, with Wes Unseld Jr. stepping down as head coach Jan. 25 to move into the front office and Brian Keefe taking over as the interim head coach.

After winning two of the first three games under Keefe, the Wizards have been in a tailspin. They went into the All-Star break after a 133-126 loss at New Orleans on Feb. 14 despite Deni Avdija’s career-high 43 points to go along with his 15 rebounds.

Avdija has been one of the few bright spots during the losing streak. He is averaging 23 points in February despite scoring just nine in a loss against Cleveland.

“I never thought that coming to the league, seeing all those numbers, those big players score those points, (I’d be]) able to be that hot,” Avdija said after the loss to the Pelicans. “All the hard work, the times that I was down or I didn’t have good games — I was down on myself a lot of times, and I stuck with it.

“I kept working hard, I kept being patient, I went through a lot. And for me, it’s only the start. I feel like I’m still getting better.”

He might find it tougher against Denver, which is sixth in the league in points allowed. Getting Kyle Kuzma back should help after he missed the Wizards’ last game with a non-COVID illness.

–Field Level Media

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