WASHINGTON • The Washington Wizards tried their best to stay competitive with one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and almost came away with an upset after pulling within 111-108 at the Capital One Arena on Thursday.
The hosts, however, came up short at the final buzzer as the Denver Nuggets shook off their "hangover effect" in their first National Basketball Association (NBA) game since beating the Boston Celtics on Monday, when they sealed a play-off spot for the first time since 2013.
The visitors edged past the Wizards 113-108 for their fifth straight win, displaying their roster depth with eight Nuggets players getting into double figures - including Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Torrey Craig, who scored 15 points each.
Jokic, who is averaging 20.2 points this season, also contributed 11 assists and six rebounds to their efforts as Denver stayed just 1/2 game behind two-time defending champions Golden State Warriors, who occupy the top spot in the West.
Although the Nuggets (48-22) out-shot the Wizards, 52.9 per cent to 50.6 per cent, coach Michael Malone admitted he had been "really worried about this game just because of the hangover effect of clinching a play-off spot in Boston".
But his fears were assuaged after his team put on a gritty display with their talents on the court.
Malone hailed his team, saying: "To pull this off, even though it wasn't pretty, speaks of our team and not being satisfied."
He also reserved special praise for centre Jokic, telling the Denver Post: "For us to be in the position we're in is largely because of him.
"He may not be on (ESPN) Sportscenter's top 10 (plays) with alley-oop dunks, blocking shots, all that kind of stuff.
"But his passing, his play-making, his scoring, his rebounding, his IQ, his vision are all off the charts."
For the Wizards (30-43), though, their third consecutive loss means they will likely be watching the post-season from the sidelines.
They are now six games behind the Miami Heat, who occupy the eighth and final play-off spot in the East, with only nine left to play.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST