Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets took advantage of the Washington Wizards’ shorthandedness on Wednesday night, defeating them, 141-128, by having their way with their defense all night long. In fact, in the process of doing so, the Nuggets set a record the NBA hasn’t seen in the past 25 years.
Led by Jokic’s 43-point, 14-rebound, and 8-dime performance, the Nuggets bullied the Wizards’ paltry interior defense to the tune of 98 points in the paint. Per Mike Singer and John Schuhmann, that is the most paint points a team has scored since 1996, and the most paint points the Nuggets have scored in franchise history.
To put in perspective how incredible this feat is, out of 54 field goals the Nuggets made on the night, 49 of them were in the paint. Nikola Jokic had 17 field-goals in the paint on his own, outmuscling the Wizards’ bigs all night long.
The Nuggets scored only one two-point field-goal outside the shaded area, a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope pull-up early in the first quarter. The three-point shot may dominate today’s NBA, but that didn’t matter for the Nuggets tonight. They only made four of their 16 attempts from deep, but no one cares if a team makes 49 (!) shots in the key.
It didn’t help the Wizards at all that Kristaps Porzingis was unable to suit up tonight due to a back injury. Porzingis may not be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but he could at least deter shots at the rim with his 7’3 frame. Instead, the Wizards relied on 37-year old Taj Gibson as their starting center, with Daniel Gafford as the backup. Simply put, the Wizards had all the ingredients for a defensive disaster, and a defensive disaster it turned out to be indeed.
This loss to the Nuggets marks the Wizards’ eighth straight defeat as they continue to tumble down the standings amid Bradley Beal’s absence. Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets, however, will take every victory they can get, especially if they can nab these kinds of dominant victories as they try to remain competitive in the cutthroat Western Conference.