Nuggets welcome Wizards in homecoming for Wes Unseld Jr.

National Sports

Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone understands what it’s like to be an assistant trying to make it to head coach, so he does what he can to help his staff get those jobs.

It took a while for Wes Unseld Jr. to get his chance but with Malone — and the Denver front office — helping his cause, Unseld was hired by Washington in the summer, and it looks like a good fit for the Wizards.

Unseld has led Washington to a surprisingly strong start and Monday he returns to his former home when the Wizards play the Nuggets to kick off a six-game road trip.

Washington has had a tough time of it lately, losing five of its last seven, including a 25-point home loss to Utah on Saturday night. It hopes to turn things around against a Denver team that is coming off a seven-game, six-city road trip.

The Wizards could be without Kyle Kuzma for a second straight game. He was put in the league’s coronavirus protocols before Saturday’s game and his status for Monday is unknown.

If Kuzma can’t go, Washington will need to lean a little more on Bradley Beal. Beal is averaging 22.5 points a game and has scored 21 or more points in the last three games after four straight subpar shooting performances.

Beal isn’t worried about his shooting woes.

“Teams are still going to run two, three guys at me,” Beal said. “… It’s totally different from last year, and I think that’s what I want everyone to stop thinking about. Different team, different dynamic. Granted, that bar is set high and I have goals to achieve. But at the same time, it is a work in progress.”

The Nuggets haven’t played at home since losing to Milwaukee on Nov. 26 and went 4-3 on their road trip that finished with two games in San Antonio. Denver beat the Spurs 127-112 on Saturday night and had solid wins in Miami and New York on the trip.

The Nuggets have been floating near .500 while dealing with roster turmoil. Nikola Jokic has made up for a lot of holes, averaging 26.7 points, 13.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists on the road trip. He had 35 points and 17 rebounds in Saturday’s game, upping his production with Will Barton out due to a non-COVID illness.

Markus Howard, who has been used sparingly this season, stepped in with a season-high 21-point effort with Barton out and Austin Rivers still in COVID-19 protocols. He scored 16 in a game-turning second quarter and hit six 3-pointers in the game.

“I just know any time I’m put in a position to be in the game, I know my skillset, and I know what I’m capable of doing,” Howard said. “And so do my teammates. They have trust in me to be able to make plays.”

Denver didn’t have an update on Barton’s status for Monday’s game and Rivers’ status is unknown. Davon Reed, who was called up from the G-League on Dec. 4, started Saturday night and could get another start Monday.

–Field Level Media

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