The Denver Nuggets are in Charlotte tonight to take on the streaking Hornets as they search for their first win on this five-game road trip. After a successful seven-game home-stand, in which they went 5-2, the Nuggets have now dropped three in a row, virtually all but officially eliminating them from playoff contention. The Charlotte Hornets, meanwhile, are on an upward spiral after winning nine of their last ten games. They currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference but are only half a game back from the third-place Atlanta Hawks. The Hornets are led by their point guard, Kemba Walker, who is averaging 21.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 5.3 apg. They are also assisted by versatile forwards Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson. Jefferson, who returned last month from a knee injury that forced him to miss six weeks, has been coming off the bench for the last few months of the season. During their last outing against the Miami Heat, he scored 21 points and notched 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes.
The Nuggets, in order to get the win, are going to have to get a grip defensively. The first three games of this road trip, they've given up an average of 118.7 points a game. Despite being in an offensive groove, their poor defense has prevented them from winning any of those games, and tonight will be a challenge facing a team that averages 103.3 points a game. While the Nuggets don't have much to play for as far as the standings go, each game is still important in shaping their young core and improving them for the future. The Hornets are a good example of a team that came from the very bottom and have steadily risen to becoming a playoff team. Let's hope the Nuggs follow in their footsteps.
|Charlotte Hornets||Denver Nuggets
|PG||Kemba Walker||Emmanuel Mudiay||Hornets|
|SG||Courtney Lee||Gary Harris||Nuggets|
|SF||Nicolas Batum||Jakarr Sampson||Hornets|
|PF||Marvin Williams||Darrell Arthur||Hornets|
|C||Cody Zeller||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets
Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Jusuf Nurkic,Jameer Nelson
Injured players: Danilo Gallinari, ankle (out), Joffrey Lauvergne, face (probable), Jusuf Nurkic, knee (probable), Kenneth Faried, back (doubtful), Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, shoulder (out), Spencer Hawes, back (questionable), Cody Zeller, knee (questionable)
Key Match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Kemba Walker
The key match up tonight is the one between the starting point guards. Walker was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week, averaging 27.8 points, 6.8 assists and 5 rebounds a game. He's been the Hornets' MVP this season, and a huge part of why they've been on such a hot streak over the last 10+ games. When Nuggets fans watch him on the court, it should hopefully remind them of their own starting point guard. Mudiay, while having his struggles this season, has been playing better as as of late. He seems far more confident on offense, he's reduced his turnovers and he continues to get valuable experience in games. It's not far-fetched to imagine him having the same level of success as Walker in the years to come, especially when considering how eerily similar their stats are from their rookie years. Take a look at Mudiay's averages so far this season, compared to Walker's averages from 2011-2012.
Kemba Walker 2011-2012: 12.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.5 rpg, 30.5 3p%, 36.6 fg%, 27.2 mpg
Emmanuel Mudiay 2015-2016: 12.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.2 rpg, 30.2 3p%, 35.8 fg%, 30.2 mpg
Thing to Watch for: Three-point defense
The Nuggets allowed the Atlanta Hawks to shoot 46.2% from three-point range on Thursday night. They dug themselves into an early grave by allowing a barrage of threes and were never able to recover. Taking into consideration this tweet from Matt Moore of CBSSports.com, they will definitely face a challenge in this area tonight against Charlotte.
Courtney Lee, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin, and Marvin Williams are all shooting >35% from 3 since Feb 1.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 14, 2016
Knowing Michael Malone and the rest of the coaching staff, this was probably a point of emphasis in practice. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Nuggets look improved in defending the perimeter compared to the last few games.
Key Question: Can the Nuggets buckle down on defense and get the win?