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Wizards beat Nuggets in Nene's return to Denver

The SportsXchange

DENVER -- For Nene, it was hard to tell which was sweeter.

The Wizards' power forward returned Friday to Denver, where he spent nine NBA seasons before the Nuggets traded him to Washington last March. And the Wizards won the game in his return, beating the Nuggets 112-108.

That was nice. But possibly nicer was a win on the road for a team that hasn't enjoyed many road victories in 2012-13.

"It was great, for sure," Nene said. "Before the game I was emotional. But it's still a game. We still have to play hard. My teammates did a great job. It was a fun game. Better with the win."

Nene cut postgame interviews short so he could catch up with Nuggets coach George Karl. The two men survived cancer during Nene's tenure in Denver, and Nene wanted a quick word with his former coach before leaving town Friday. Karl said prior to the game he expects to keep in touch with Nene in the years to come.

Nene was treated to a highlight video played on the Pepsi Center's big screen prior to pregame introductions, and he received a standing ovation when his name was called. He finished with seven points and four rebounds in 28 minutes.

"Ten years I play here," Nene said. "I have friends here."

While Nene's return was a compelling subplot, the teammates he mentioned provided the most drama. Washington (8-29) overcame an 87-80 deficit entering the fourth quarter by going on an 18-4 run to take control.

Trailing by two, Denver's Ty Lawson tried to tie it in the final seconds, but John Wall blocked his layup attempt and then hit two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to seal the victory. Lawson scored a game-high 29, including 23 in the third quarter.

The Wizards won their fourth game in their past five and improved their road record to 2-16. Thirteen of their losses have come by six or fewer points, so winning a close one away from home was a welcomed experience.

"We're just trying to keep improving," Wall said. "We gave a game away in Sacramento down the stretch. So we just wanted to make plays. I feel like we should have three (road wins)."

Washington clicked offensively in the second half, something it has struggled to do all season. The Wizards scored 67 points after halftime, their most in a half this season, and finished 11-for-23 on 3-point shots, a 47.8 percent clip. Washington shot 51.3 percent from the field overall.

The Wizards also outrebounded Denver, 45-34. The Nuggets entered with a plus-150 rebounding advantage, second best in NBA.

Reserve forward Kevin Seraphin scored 14 points in the fourth quarter for Washington and finished with 18. Bradley Beal led six Wizards in double figures with 23.

"This is a team that, with all of our injuries, we have a lot of guys that weren't in a position to have to win games at the end," Washington coach Randy Wittman said. "I think we have learned a lot of that and now getting our guys back healthy only adds to that."

Karl failed in his second bid to win his 1,099th career NBA game, which would place him sixth on the league's all-time list, one win ahead of Larry Brown. Up next is Phil Jackson, who's in fifth place all-time with 1,146 career coaching wins.

Denver (24-18) lost its second in a row after it had won six straight. The Nuggets fell to 15-3 at home. A date with Oklahoma City awaits Sunday. The Thunder beat the Nuggets by 20 on Thursday.

"Oklahoma City is acceptable, this is probably not acceptable," Karl said, comparing the two defeats. "We all got to take some responsibility."

Said Lawson: "We let them get hot. The first couple of minutes, they went on a 10-0 run, and when a team comes into your building and gets confidence like that, it is hard to stop them when they hit every shot. They are hitting 3s, and in the post, we didn't stop them at all. That's what happens when we don't stay focused."

NOTES: Guard Jordan Crawford returned to Washington's lineup Friday after missing the previous four games with a sore left ankle. "(Thursday) we came in for a light, brisk workout and I thought he looked good and had a bounce to him," Wittman said. Crawford leads Washington with a career-best 15.6 points a game. He's also averaging career highs in assists per game (4.6) and rebounds (4.0). Washington entered Friday 4-27 when Crawford plays; 3-2 when he does not. ... Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler returned to Denver's lineup Friday. He missed Wednesday's game at Oklahoma City for precautionary reasons. Chandler missed 30 games with a hip injury before returning on Sunday. ... Asked to compare Wizards' Wall with Hall-of-Fame-nominee Gary Payton, whom he coached in Seattle, Karl said: "Wall has a defensive base like Gary, really low, really stays in his defensive stance. And offensively, they both probably couldn't make shots early in their career. Gary would will a ball into the basket. He'd threaten a ball if it didn't go into the basket."

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