NBA

Red-hot Wizards visit desperate Nuggets

DENVER -- The Washington Wizards were going nowhere in November.

A new coach in Scott Brooks brought a winning pedigree from his time Oklahoma City, where he led the Thunder to the 2012 NBA Finals, but it wasn't translating to the Eastern Conference.

Nine losses in the first 12 games, a 7-13 mark in early December. It was looking like the change on the bench was for the worse.

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But the Wizards -- and Brooks -- didn't panic, and are getting rewarded for their patience. Three months later, Washington is 38-24 after Tuesday's 131-127 shootout win in Phoenix.

The Wizards have won 15 of 19 since a one-point loss in Detroit on Jan. 21, and their recent string of success will be put to the test when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

It's part of a five-game road trip -- one of two tough treks in March -- but with the regular season coming to an end in a month, the motivation is there to power through.

"We just have to focus and be mentally and physically ready to play each game," Brooks told The Washington Post. "My job is try to make sure we're all fresh enough to compete for all the games that we play on our schedule."

They shouldn't have trouble getting motivated to play the Nuggets. Denver (29-34) is fighting to hold onto the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and needs ever win it can get. After the Wizards game is the Boston Celtics on Friday, and every contest holds equal importance for a team trying to reach the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

"If I have to motivate them now, we're in trouble," coach Michael Malone said. "If I have to motivate guys it's a sad state of affairs. There's a lot at stake."

The Nuggets rose to the occasion against Sacramento on Monday without Nikola Jokic, who was out with an illness. In his absence, Wilson Chandler stepped up with a career 36 points and 12 rebounds. Jokic is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game while forward Kenneth Faried will miss his sixth straight game with lower back spasms.

Denver survived its first game without the 22-year-old Jokic directing the offense from the center position, but against the Wizards his absence might be too much to overcome. Washington boasts one of the best backcourts in the NBA with John Wall and Bradley Beal, and bolstered its depth with deals that landed Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings.

Bogdanovic, whom was acquired from Brooklyn at the trading deadline, has played well. He scored 27 points in his third game with Washington, a 105-96 win at Toronto on March 1, and another 27 against Orlando four days later.

He had 29 in the win over the Suns, and his production will be needed as the Wizards play a tough March schedule.

"We have to take care of each game, focus on each game," Brooks told The Washington Post. "When I say 'take care' of them, it doesn't mean that we're going to win, but we have to focus so we give ourselves the best chance to win."

Playing in Denver on the second game of a back-to-back is difficult, as the Kings found out Monday. The Nuggets led the entire game and used a push in the third quarter to build a comfortable 21-point lead.

The key is sustaining that success, which has been an issue for Denver. It followed up two road wins in two days last week with a dud against Charlotte on Saturday. The up-and-down effort has the Nuggets fighting to stay in the last playoff spot instead of trying to reach higher.

That means treating each game like a playoff game.

"Really, that's how it's going to be the rest of the season," forward Mason Plumlee said. "We've got to win every night. Every night."