After fortuitously drawing the Raptors, Bobcats and Dwight Howard-less Magic on the schedule (and none of those games as back-to-backs), the Nuggets get to compete against a fourth lame duck team on the road when they face off against the injury-riddled Hornets at New Orleans on Wednesday night.
Denver: 29-24 (14-12 on the road)
Streak: Won 2
New Orleans: 13-40 (5-21 at home)
Streak: Lost 3
Denver: Danilo Gallinari (fractured left thumb) is out. Wilson Chandler (groin strain) is day-to-day.New Orleans: Trevor Ariza (sore right ankle) is out. Eric Gordon (right knee contusion) is probable. Carl Landry (sprained right ankle) is questionable. Emeka Okafor (sore left knee) is out.
Season Series: Nuggets lead 2-1
Opposition's Take: At the Hive
With just 13 games to be played in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, our Denver Nuggets don't have too many should-be-easy-games left. One such game takes place in New Orleans on Wednesday against a Hornets team that has won - no joke - five home games all season and has been missing an assortment of key players due to varying injuries, notably Eric Gordon, Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Otherwise known as their starting shooting guard, starting power forward, starting center and starting small forward (Gordon is scheduled to return for the first time since early January.)
Even with four-fifths of their roster in place, this Hornets team wasn't going to make a repeat playoff appearance. Former point guard Chris Paul was good enough to steer this wayward franchise to three playoff appearances in the last four seasons, but by taking him out of the equation with a pre-season trade - combined with the roster disruption such a trade causes and the many injuries sustained by the roster - the Hornets find themselves with the NBA's third-worst record.
Maybe Kentucky's Anthony Davis - having won the NCAA championship in the Superdome on Monday night -- should just stay in town until the Hornets draft him this summer.
And yet, as bad as this Hornets team is, they beat the Nuggets ... in Denver ... with the Nuggets' roster fully healthy ... just days after the Nuggets won at New Orleans ... in a 13-point rout ... back when the Nuggets were actually decent.
In hindsight, that 94-81 defeat back on January 9th was a harbinger of bad things to come for the Nuggets. Since then, the Nuggets have dropped multiple home games to shoddy competition (or at least made home games against shoddy competition uncomfortably close) and until very recently were paying the price for it by possibly missing the playoffs.
But thanks to some good fortune (and scheduling), the Nuggets are back in the playoff hunt and have created a smidgen of distance between themselves and the Jazz, who currently rank ninth in the overall Western Conference standings. Beating the Hornets on Wednesday should widen the gap a bit further.
Riding a three-game losing streak, the Hornets simply can't score. In fact, the only team that scores less than they do are the Bobcats. If the Hornets can somehow break 92 points, they have a shot at winning. Otherwise, they're toast.
Conversely, the NBA-leaders-in-scoring Nuggets have no trouble putting up points but they also give up an NBA second-worst 102 points per game. And sadly, in five of their last seven games the Nuggets have ceded at least 100 points to their opponents, including the woeful Raptors who scored 105 against the Nuggets' "efense."
If we've learned anything this season it's not to take any opponents for granted. There hasn't been a consistent energy to the 2011-12 season for the Nuggets (or most NBA teams for that matter) and it's easy to get caught off guard on any given night. If Gordon weren't returning to play Wednesday, I'd be 100% convinced that the Hornets are throwing away the remainder of their season to net a high draft pick. But with Gordon back, it appears as though the Hornets still want to compete. Will Denver be ready?
SCOUTING THE HORNETS
-Jarrett Jack: A former Nuggets draft pick (traded on draft day for Linas Kleiza), Jack has stepped in admirably in the absence of Paul and Gordon and is posting career-best numbers of 15.6 ppg, 6.3 apg and 3.9 rpg. He should probably be the NBA's best backup point guard not named Mo Williams, but instead has to start as the Hornets - literally - have no one else to turn to.
-Eric Gordon: Gordon has only appeared in two games all season, but he's no Stiff. Capable of going off on any given night, Gordon could feast off the Nuggets' biggest weakness: defending the three-point shot.
-Emeka Okafor: Okafor's numbers seem to go in the reverse order of his paycheck. The more he makes, the less he produces. And this season, Okafor is averaging a career-low 9.9 ppg and 7.9 rpg despite raking in $12.5 million. Which goes up to $13.5 million and then $14.5 million over the next two seasons.
-Al-Farouq Aminu: Aminu seems destined to be yet another swingman bust like the many we've seen in recent drafts. Now in his second season, Aminu can't even take advantage of the extra playing time being offered to him in New Orleans.
Not too many gimme games left. The Nuggets better make sure this one ends up in the "W" column!