Nuggets beat Wizards to keep pace in playoff chase
WASHINGTON — Will Barton tuned out the friends and family shouting his name because he had a much bigger concern.
Essentially shooting for his team’s season, Barton scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Denver Nuggets beat the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night to keep their playoff hopes alive. Denver is on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff picture, but has now won two in a row to put some more heat on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz.
“We’re in must-win mode every game,” said Barton, who was 5 of 7 from 3-point range. “Everyone wants to try to do their part to make sure we get a win.”
Not winning isn’t an option for the Nuggets, who went into the night two back of Minnesota and Utah and shot 50 percent from 3 to at least keep pace. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points and hit big shots in important moments as Denver was missing guard Gary Harris for the fourth consecutive game because of a knee injury.
“I thought everybody stepped up,” coach Michael Malone said.
The Nuggets withstood a barrage of seven Washington 3-pointers in the third quarter alone that shrunk a 12-point halftime deficit to two. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 24, but they didn’t have the stops or the shots down the stretch to fend off a desperate opponent and lost a step in a competitive East race that has five points separated in the standings by four games.
“We have to play with more urgency,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We can’t just go out there like it’s just another game. … These are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications on every game.”
The Nuggets are well-aware of the implications every time they step on the court. Forward Paul Millsap gutted through 25 minutes despite flu-like symptoms, Devin Harris played more than 28 off the bench and they got a victory that keeps them thinking the playoffs are in reach.
“This team still believes,” Malone said. “There’s a lot of basketball still to be played. Before we worry about what everybody else is doing, we have to handle our own business, and thank goodness we were able to do that.”
Nuggets: Had only 10 turnovers after 23 in their first meeting with Washington in October. … Harris had 10 points, and two-way player Torrey Craig scored 11.
Wizards: Seven 3-pointers in the third quarter were as many or more than the Wizards made in 21 different full games this season. … G John Wall, who has been out almost two months after left knee injury, is doing some basketball activities and could practice as soon as Saturday. There’s no definitive timeframe for Wall’s return.
PARKLAND STUDENTS VISIT
Some students, parents and teachers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stopped by the Wizards’ shootaround Friday morning and met with Brooks, who called it an honor to speak with them. They’re in Washington to march for gun control after 17 people were killed at the school last month.
“They’re here for a purpose,” Brooks said. “They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been through things that they shouldn’t have to go through.”
Malone said hello to a student after the game, telling him to “stay strong.”
CHENIER’S 45 RETIRED
At halftime, Phil Chenier became the fifth player in Wizards/Bullets history to have his number retired as his 45 was unveiled in the rafters along with a 33 and microphone to commemorate his time as a broadcaster. Chenier is the third player from the 1978 NBA championship team to have his number retired, joining Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, though back surgery prevented him from taking part in that playoff run.
“It really was exciting for me to see that 45 up there and to see my name,” Chenier said afterward. “It looked good up there.”
In a video message shown in the third quarter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asked: “The only question is, what took them so long?”
Nuggets: Make stop No. 5 of their seven-game road trip Monday night at Philadelphia to continue their playoff pursuit.
Wizards: Host the New York Knicks on Sunday with the possibility of clinching their second consecutive playoff berth.