|Nuggets' backcourt bracing for Wizards' 1-2 punch|
The Denver Nuggets gave their offense to a pair of young point guards this season, and so far the return has been incomplete.
With the release of veteran Jameer Nelson last week, Denver's offense is in the hands of 20-year-old Jamal Murray and 21-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay. It was a risky move to waive a veteran point guard, especially for a team with playoff aspirations.
Murray and Mudiay haven't shot the ball well, but they are doing a decent job of taking care of it. Murray is averaging two turnovers per game and Mudiay one for the Nuggets, who are 1-1 after Saturday's home win against Sacramento.
Looking past the record, Denver hasn't scored 100 points in a game but that doesn't fall solely on the two youngsters. Center Nikola Jokic, a triple-double threat every night, went scoreless against the Kings after having just seven points in the opener against Utah.
Coach Michael Malone isn't trying to put too much on his young point guards. In fact, Murray is averaging less than 20 minutes a game and Mudiay about 23, and the offense is running through other players. But the spotlight will be on the young guys when they host the Washington Wizards on Monday night.
The Wizards (2-0) have one of the most dynamic backcourts in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They are a handful for any team, but it could be a much bigger task for Murray and Mudiay to stop. Wall and Beal are averaging 27 and 25 points, respectively, to lead the Wizards
Mudiay was expected to be the point guard of the future when he was taken seventh overall in the 2015 draft, but he has struggled with turnovers and decision-making in his two years. Murray, taken in the same spot in 2016, has moved ahead of him in the rotation.
There are still growing pains but Mudiay has been solid off the bench so far. He had eight rebounds against Sacramento.
"Just a good, solid effort," Malone said.
The Nuggets might need to be more than solid against the Wizards. They came within a Game 7 loss of reaching the Eastern Conference finals last spring and boast a young, talented squad starting with Wall and Beal.
Another young player, third-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr., has moved into the starting lineup with injuries to Jason Smith and Markieff Morris. Oubre can celebrate that Washington has picked up his fourth-year option, and he has a chance to take control of the forward position until Smith and Morris return.
Morris, who is recovering from offseason hernia surgery, has amped up his workout's and is starting to participate in contact drills.
"He did everything. He did the entire 20 minutes of one-on-one live, which was great for him," coach Scott Brooks told the Washington Post on Saturday "Playing against other NBA players is the next step of coming back ... he's tired of competing against the coaching staff and playing against us because you get false confidence playing against me and my staff. But it was good, he gave a good 20 minutes. The conditioning is pretty good, considering he's coming back from the hernia surgery."
Smith missed Friday's win over Detroit with a sprained right shoulder but is likely to return soon, possibly on the four-game Western Conference road swing that starts Monday night. Washington will test Denver's defense, which was strong Saturday night after a rough start in Utah on Wednesday.
The Nuggets held Sacramento to 36.5 percent shooting and clamped down in the third and most of the fourth.
"The effort was definitely there," said forward Paul Millsap, who is averaging 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the first two games.