[Ty Lawson - photo: K. Weidie]
The Wizards doubled their win total for the season this week. What’s stopping them from tripling their previous count of one? Why, the Denver Nuggets of course. Tonight’s game will be the only meeting between the Wizards (2-12) and the Nuggets (10-5), the Western Conference foe hoping to remain unbeaten on a five-game road trip. Who’s down for a little 3-on-3? Today, our very own Sam Permutt and John Converse Townsend are joined by Jeremy Wagner of the ESPN TrueHoop Network blog Roundball Mining Co.
#1) The ball comes out of the net, and the big man outlets the ball to the point guard to lead the fast break. Do you want that point guard to be 6 ’4″ John Wall who is athletic and fast, but occasionally out of control or Ty Lawson who is allegedly 5’11″, just as fast, not quite as athletic but seemingly more controlled when he leads the break?
PERMUTT: John Wall. The last two games, Wall has been playing under control and finishing well on the break. Lawson is so effective in transition not only because of his speed and decision-making, but because he usually has multiple guys running with him. If Wall can consistently get the same kind of transition options as Lawson gets with the Nuggets (wing players running hard), his decision-making is sure to improve.
TOWNSEND: Right now, I’ll take my guy Ty Lawson (Go Heels!), who plays just as fast as John Wall in the open court. Lawson generals the fastest paced offense in the NBA (98.7 possessions per 48 minutes), and does so with almost unrivaled efficiency: Denver is the fifth-most efficient offense in the Association, scoring more than 105 points per 100 possessions.
WAGNER: I absolutely take Ty Lawson. Wall certainly has the prototypical size, but that is where his advantages over Lawson end. Lawson is faster, smarter and according to Hoopdata even finishes better at the rim 62.9% to 57.0%. Lawson’s ability to finish is possibly his most surprising trait. In summer league his rookie season he had nearly everything he threw up blocked. He made incredible strides immediately as a rookie and is amazingly effective in the lane. Add in his tremendous passing instincts and ability to play at warp speed and in control and he is the clear choice between the two to run the break.
#2) Will Wizards take advantage of a weakened Nuggets frontcourt (Nene has been ruled out for tonight’s game and Timofey Mozgov may be limited with a back strain) to win their second consecutive game?
PERMUTT: The loss of Nene definitely helps the Wizards chances of winning, but to a limited extent. Defensively, Mozgov and Koufos are both big bodies, capable of clogging the paint and grabbing boards. If the Nuggets need more offensive punch, they can turn to their depth; expect Al Harrington, Andre Miller, and Rudy Fernandez to all play big minutes. Because the Wizards don’t have a dominant, consistent post presence, the Nuggets can get away with going small—unless JaVale gets his hook shot going.
TOWNSEND: Nene has been dominant on the Nuggets’ current road trek (averaging 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists) and his teammates will surely miss his presence on the floor, both as a passer and a pick-and-roll defender. But the Wizards must take advantage of his absence by attacking the foul-prone Timofey Mozgov and stand-in starer Kosta Koufos. Defensively, Washington must stay close to stretchy forwards Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington (who has scored 58 points in his previous two visits to D.C.).
WAGNER: With Nene out Denver will rely more heavily on Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos. Both have had impressive outings so far this season, but as you would expect, they are the exception instead of the rule. As long as one or the other is in the game, Denver should be OK on the boards. However, if Al Harrington is playing center, or if Danilo Gallinari plays significant minutes at power forward, the Wizards will have a strong advantage in the paint. I do not think Nene’s absence is enough to make Washington the favorite, but their chances of winning have increased significantly to where this game is nearly a tossup.
#3) The Wizards are coming off a big upset over the Thunder and all the talk within the team is about building on the positives from the surprising win. Denver is coming off of a solid win against Philadelphia, though winning is a bit more regular for the Nuggets squad (10-5 on the year). Does either team come out differently than normal after strong performances in the last game, or is it business as usual?
PERMUTT: Denver will be on their toes with the Wizards having just upset OKC, so expect them to be focused and ready. As for the Wizards, winning back-to-back games against quality opponents will be tough. After the highs of Wednesday (and Wednesday night, if Nick Young’s post-game interview was any indication of party plans), the Wizards might suffer from a big-win hangover. The interesting part will be how they respond if they do come out of the gate slowly.
TOWNSEND: Business as usual, though the Wizards won’t be working against the grain so much tonight. The Wizards should hit the ground running, finding the Nuggets’ fast-paced style more familiar, but that doesn’t mean the home team will coast to a victory. The Nug Show are in the tougher defensively than you might think, and I like them to take advantage of favorable match-ups on both ends of the floor.
WAGNER: George Karl’s gospel regularly includes a sermon about how great it is to win half the games on a road trip. Denver has won the first two contests of a five game trip and the game against the Wiz is their third in a stretch of four games in five nights. The win in Philly was a game where Denver had exceptional focus and it was clearly a big win for them. Saturday night they head to New York to face Carmelo Anthony for the first time. You know that is a contest that many of them have been looking forward to. Combine those factors and if there is a game on this trip where Denver will not be completely dialed in, it will be this one.
Washington is certainly viewed as a lesser team and the only thing that might cause Denver to take notice is the fact Washington just upset the Thunder. I do not expect Denver to come out flat, but I would be shocked to see them play anyway near their best ball.