DENVER (AP)—It’s still December—far too early to hit the panic button, but certainly not too early to ignore the fact that the Denver Nuggets are a team in trouble.
The latest evidence came Wednesday night in a 116-110 home loss to the struggling Washington Wizards, who got 36 points from Gilbert Arenas and a strong, energetic effort from the rest of the team to snap a three-game losing streak.
“Everybody came on hard because we were in a desperate situation,” Antwan Jamison said. “We had to dig down deep and get this win.”
Jamison began the climb out of his 30-for-104 slump with a 20-point, 10-rebound game that included a key, three-point play for a 103-96 lead with 3:48 left.
A little more than two minutes later, the Wizards started celebrating their second win in the last eight games when Arenas spotted up for one of his many open 3-pointers, which he swished to make it 110-100.
Carmelo Anthony had 29 points and Marcus Camby had 23 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high six steals for Denver. But that wasn’t enough to prevent the fourth straight loss for the Nuggets, who were considered a major threat in the Western Conference when the season started—and may still be—but fell to 12-14.
This marked Denver’s fourth loss in 12 games at home this season and a bad start to a stretch in which the Nuggets play eight of nine at the Pepsi Center.
They were injured, missing Greg Buckner (groin) and Earl Boykins (hamstring) and nursing Kenyon Martin (11 points, eight rebounds) through a knee injury that has kept him at less than 100 percent all year.
They were tired, coming off a six-game road trip and trying to readjust to the altitude.
Then again, the same could be said of the Wizards, who are without Jarvis Hayes (fractured kneecap) and will close out their five-game Western swing Friday at Phoenix.
“I’m tired of excuses,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I think it’s all about playing with enough heart, intensity and commitment that if we lose, we can be proud of it. I don’t think we can be proud of it tonight.”
Karl was at a loss to explain why his veteran team, a team with supposedly enough talent to make a major playoff push, often lacks the energy he insists is needed to win in the NBA.
The Nuggets are thought to be interested in acquiring Ron Artest— speculation Karl wouldn’t comment on before the game—and though there would be baggage involved in that kind of deal, clearly Denver looks like a team in need of some kind of boost. The Nuggets simply aren’t functioning with the same verve that sparked the 32-8 finish to last season after Karl came on board.
“From the start of the game, we were acting like we won five in a row,” Camby said. “We didn’t come out with the intensity and attitude needed to win the game.”
Caron Butler (11 points, seven rebounds) made his first start of the season and sparked the Wizards early, helping them to a seven-point lead in the first quarter and setting the tone for a game in which they made it clear they came to compete.
“We had positive energy,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ve never wavered in confidence with each other or for each other.”
The Nuggets, meanwhile, looked like a team without focus.
They missed 17 of 38 free throws and they let Arenas roam virtually unhindered around the perimeter during a second half in which he spotted up for easy, open shots and made more than his share.
“I think a lot of our success comes when we played good defense, get deflections,” Karl said. “We lacked a defensive consciousness on a consistent basis.”
Earl Watson provided a small spark off the bench for the Nuggets, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter and trigger a 10-2 run that gave them a brief lead, at 88-86.
Many times this season, the Wizards might have folded. This time, though, Arenas answered with a 16-foot jumper, then a steal and layup, and Washington didn’t trail again.
“They are better than what they are showing now,” Arenas said of the Nuggets.
Karl can only hope Arenas is right.
“We needed to play a complete game and a focused game,” the coach said, “and it just didn’t happen.”
This was Washington’s first win in Denver since March 20, 2002. … Jared Jeffries had 10 points and Brendan Haywood had 14 to make this the first time this season all five Washington starters have hit double figures. … Denver, which went 42-for-84 from the floor, lost for the first time this season when it shot at least 50 percent.