- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

For anyone concerned Washington’s 111-105 loss last night to the Denver Nuggets signals a turn of the Wizards’ fortunes, take a look at the situation from a different standpoint.

For starters, consider that of Washington’s remaining 66 games, only 27 remain against the superior Western Conference.

The Wizards (10-6), who have been doing a good job against teams in the wretched Eastern Conference, faced a good Denver team that looks nothing like the Torontos, Chicagos and New Jerseys of the East. And the Wizards were not outclassed even though Denver was in charge most of the night, especially when it was most important.

“It seemed like every time we got it close, they had a knockout punch for us,” Washington’s Brendan Haywood said.

Most of those punches were delivered by Denver point guard Andre Miller, who posted a season-high 34 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

While Miller sliced through the Wizards with little effort, he was not alone. The Nuggets scored 60 points in the first half, when they made 55 percent of their shots. Carmelo Anthony finished with 23 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Camby scored a season-high 16 points to go with nine rebounds and 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins added 13 points and eight rebounds.

“We let them get comfortable out there early on,” said Washington’s Larry Hughes, who finished with 15 points and eight assists. “They got comfortable with what they wanted to do, and it hurt us.”

Denver (11-7), which acquired Kenyon Martin for three lottery protected first-round picks over the summer, has won nine of its last 11 games.

“Every game is a playoff implication game — I keep saying that,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Every game is so meaningful, and you knew that Washington was going to make a run. They were knocking on the door, and we kept answering.”

Compare the Nuggets’ recent performance to those of the teams the Wizards have beaten and the differences are glaring. Of the Wizards’ 10 victories, only one came against a team with a winning record (Orlando).

Despite the loss, the Wizards seemed upbeat about what lies ahead. They finish a four-game homestand with games tomorrow night against New York and Sunday afternoon against New Orleans and have a four-game western trip coming up that starts Dec.17 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“You know, we can win one Friday and then Sunday, go 3-1 at home and then go out west — it’s not a bad thing for us,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting, and Antawn Jamison posted his eighth double-double of the season (27 points, 11 rebounds, five assists).

Down by 15 points in the third quarter, the Wizards closed within 100-96 on Hughes’ jumper with 3:26 to play. But back-to-back Denver baskets — an alley oop to Anthony and Boykins’ layup off of a steal — restored the Nuggets’ lead to eight.

Arenas drilled a 3 to pull the Wizards within 104-99, and Martin’s illegal screen sent Hughes to the line with 53.3 seconds left. But the Wizards’ chances of winning their fifth in a row slipped away when Haywood was whistled for a foul on play in which he appeared to expend the majority of his energy making sure his hands were tucked against his thighs.

“A phantom call,” Haywood said later.

Martin sank both free throws. Arenas responded with a 3, but Miller put the game out of reach for the Nuggets at 108-100 on a breakaway layup with 25.2 seconds to play.

“There are always chances to win every game — we just didn’t convert any of them,” Arenas said. “It was just one of those games where they played better than us tonight. We can’t play all of them great. We’ve got New York next, and that’s what we’re worried about now.”

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