The Denver Nuggets were hoping to avoid getting stung by the buzzing Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte this afternoon, and they managed to do just that. Despite the Nuggets leading at one point by 22 points, the Hornets crawled their way back into the game in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to five. With the help of D.J. Augustin, who scored 24 points on 8/11 shooting, the Nuggets survived a huge run by the Hornets on their way to their first win on this five-game road trip. Nicolas Batum made things interesting late in the fourth, as he finished with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists, but the Nuggets came up victorious after a much-improved defensive performance.
The game started out sloppy as both teams missed shots and turned the ball over on offense. It seemed that every shot the Hornets were taking besides a three by Kemba Walker was coming up short, and the Nuggets took an early 12-5 lead with some nice play inside and some threes by the rookies, Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic. Turnovers prevented the Nuggets from expanding the lead, however, and a couple dunks by Cody Zeller kept the Hornets close despite their poor shooting. The Nuggets ended the quarter with a 6 point lead, 28-22, despite having 6 turnovers. They did, however, hold the Hornets to a 33.3 fg% and only 22 points in the first.
Jusuf Nurkic came in the game and had a huge impact off the bench, distracting opponents inside on defense and scoring on the other end, even hitting a mid-range jumper. The Nuggets were able to expand their lead in the second quarter off nice play from Will Barton, Augustin and Nurkic while continuing to help the Hornets stay cold from the field. After a three by Augustin, the Nuggets used an 8-0 run to take a 42-27 lead. The rest of the half saw the Nuggets in a groove offensively, and they also had a much-improved defensive effort compared to their past few games. They went into halftime leading 57-40, led by 10 points by Barton and 8 rebounds by Jokic.
The second half started a bit slowly for the Nuggets but thanks to good play from Darrell Arthur and the rest of the starters, they actually expanded their lead to 22. Plain and simple, the Hornets just were cold from the field and the Nuggets were using a total team effort on both ends to get it done. Still, their lead was cut to 14 after a 10-2 run by the Hornets, and even further in the fourth quarter when the benches came in. After a layup by Walker, the Nuggets' lead was only 9 points with just under 9 minutes left. 9 consecutive points by Augustin, however, put the Nuggets back up 16 and stopped the Hornets' run...briefly. Good play from Jeremy Lin and two threes by Batum helped the Hornets get within 5 with about 4 minutes left, but it was followed by a three from Arthur and this play from Augustin and Gary Harris.
D.J... https://t.co/ypnO7fJlah— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) March 20, 2016
The Nuggets were ultimately able to survive the run by Batum and the Hornets, and they came away with the win, 101-93. Next up: Cleveland Cavaliers.
Box Score via espn.com
Key Match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Kemba Walker
Surprisingly enough, neither of these players were the best point guard on the floor tonight. That honor has to go to Augustin. Both Walker and Mudiay had modest games, with Mudiay scoring 11 points on 4/15 shooting while notching 7 rebounds and 4 assists and Walker scoring 15 on 6/18 shooting and bringing down 7 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists. Overall, I'd say these two were pretty evenly matched this afternoon. It was nice to see Mudiay attacking the basket, even if the attempts were't always fruitful. He also had a big shot down the stretch under the basket that helped fend off the Hornets. Keeping Walker from having a big night played a big part in the Nuggets getting this win, even if Mudiay did not have his best game of the season.
Thing to Watch: Three-Point Defense
The Hornets were ice cold from the field for three quarters, as every shot seemed to fall short. This was countered on the other end by a great night for the Nuggets from the three-point line, as they finished 50% from long range, 9/18. The Hornets did heat up from distance, however, especially once Batum hit a few threes at the end of the fourth to help them cut the lead. Still, the Hornets only managed to shoot 28.1% from three, 9/32. While it's unclear if the Hornets were missing shots due to the Nuggets' defense, or if they were just off this game, it was still obviously a much better defensive effort by the Nuggets. Despite the Hornets being one of the better teams from the three-point range, the Nuggets clearly won this area.
Final Thought: An impressive win
If you haven't watched the Hornets play lately, you may have really doubted that they've been so hot over the last few weeks just by watching the first three quarters of this game. This was a good team, and the fact that the Nuggets came away with the win, even if they did blow a big lead, is impressive.