Nuggets coach Michael Malone is not surprised that Aaron Gordon’s back is hurting.
He’s been carrying the team quite a bit lately.
On Monday night, Gordon still put on a show at Ball Arena in a 113-107 victory over the Washington Wizards. He received a second-quarter pass from teammate Facu Campazzo in transition for a thunderous windmill dunk that brought the home crowd to its feet.
“That’s Aaron Gordon at his finest in the open court,” Malone said. “He’s really cementing himself amongst the best defenders in the NBA and more of the more complete players.”
Gordon entered the night questionable to play with lower back pain. He finished with 16 points as one of four different Nuggets to score in double-figures. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic posted a team-high 28 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists. But he was ejected late in the fourth quarter with double-technical fouls for arguing with officials.
“I didn’t get much an explanation. Nikola can’t do that. He’s aware of that,” Malone said. “Not a very smart play. We have to control our emotions better than that.”
Denver led by as many as 33 points in the third quarter. The Wizards cut their deficit to single digits with less than two minutes left, but Washington fell short in its comeback attempt.
“We stopped defending and we turned the ball over,” Malone said. “We’ve got to look at who is in the game in the fourth that is allowing those huge runs to happen.”
Campazzo made several nifty no-look passes in the first half. The Nuggets’ bench unit extended their lead to open the second quarter with the starters resting. Jokic recorded a double-double by halftime.
The Nuggets’ injury woes continue with two starters — JaMychal Green (ankle) and Will Barton (non-COVID illness) — missing from the lineup on Monday. Denver (14-13) hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
The Wizards are led by Wes Unseld Jr., a longtime Nuggets assistant (2016-21), getting his first opportunity to be an NBA head coach. Studying Washington game film this season is “like a mirror image in many ways,” Malone said. That’s not a slight against Unseld, either.
“Literally, the play calls are the exact same,” Malone said before tip-off. “That happens. There are things that we run that I may have learned from Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Brown or Monte Williams. Wes has been a part of this for six years and it’s worked. … Wes is his own man and his own coach. He’s doing a helluva job with that.”
Footnotes. Isaiah Thomas is signing with the Nuggets’ G League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold, a league source confirmed Monday to The Denver Post. Thomas, a journeyman NBA point guard, spent the 2018-19 season with the Nuggets. … Denver expects reserve guard Austin Rivers back this week from the NBA’s health and safety protocol list. … Ball Arena held a brief moment of silence before tipoff in remembrance of late Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas who died on Thursday in his home.