After starting the season 1-2, the Denver Nuggets begin their first road trip of the year, beginning in Charlotte to face the Hornets (1-2). To begin the season, the Hornets have been struck by the injury bug, as detailed below, to a variety of important rotation players.
Who: Denver Nuggets (1-2) at Charlotte Hornets (1-2)
When: Wednesday, October 25 at 5:00 PM MST
Where: Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC
How to watch: Altitude
Rival blog: At the Hive
Injury report: DEN: Juancho Hernangomez (mono - out). CHA: Nicolas Batum (UCL - out), Cody Zeller (knee - out), Michael Carter-Williams (knee - out), Julyan Stone (leg - out), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (excused absence - unknown)
What to Watch:
Will the Nuggets wings bounce back? Let’s face it: Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler were terrible on Monday against the Washington Wizards. Neither player shot the ball well, and neither player defended particularly well either. Both have an opportunity to recover against the Hornets, who are dealing with major injury issues and absences on the wing right now. If Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t play, the Hornets will likely start Jeremy Lamb and rookie Dwayne Bacon to match up with Harris and Chandler. Those are individual battles that the Nuggets have to win if they are to be taken seriously this year.
Last season, Harris had one of his worst games of the year against the Hornets because they eliminated his cutting AND his spacing, attempting just one field goal in 21 minutes. He performed well the following game, but the book is out on how to stop Harris. He will have to rise about that and play well on both ends for Denver to come away with a win.
Chandler has to have a bounce back on this road trip. He can’t be as poor of a shooter, finisher, and defender as he has been the last three games if Denver wants to win. If the Hornets really are starting Dwayne Bacon on him, Chandler cannot lose that matchup. If he does, the Nuggets have to discuss other options at small forward.
Will a point guard match up with Kemba Walker? So far this season, Cardiac Kemba is averaging 21.7 points and 6.3 assists in his first three games. Jamal Murray? 6.0 points and 3.3 assists on a 25.9 FG%. Emmanuel Mudiay? A respectable 11.0 points followed by a not-so-respectable 2.3 assists and 2.3 turnovers, some of which killed the Nuggets against Washington. The key to stopping the Hornets is forcing another guard to create offense. The Bucks accomplished that on Monday, and Lamb shot 5/17 from the field while Walker attempted just 15 shots.
Walker is likely salivating at this matchup. All he has to do is break down a 20-year-old or a 21-year-old on the perimeter that both struggle to contain at the point of attack. This is a game in which he may have to go for 40 points to earn a victory for the Hornets, but he absolutely might get there. On one end, the Nuggets, Murray and Mudiay in particular, cannot let him take too many shots, and simply forcing the ball out of his hands will help. On the other end, they have to wear him out with cutting, fast breaking, and simple player movement.
How will Paul Millsap’s reunion with Dwight Howard go? The former duo played last year with the Atlanta Hawks to the tune of moderate disappointment on Howard’s part. He was traded to Charlotte in the offseason and has played well so far, recording 22 rebounds in a loss against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. Millsap has played reasonably well individually with the Nuggets so far, but the offense has looked awkward while trying to integrate him into the flow and movement Nikola Jokic loves to utilize.
It’s possible that neither player will match up with the other, but it wouldn’t surprise me if both head coaches decided to cross match in the front court this game. Jokic guarding Howard is a recipe for foul trouble for Jokic, while Millsap knows how to defend the artist formerly known as Superman. On the other end, Jokic eats alive shot blocking centers by dragging them out to the top of the key, so having Marvin Williams check him might be in coach Steve Clifford’s best interest, at least for part of the game.
Still, I have a feeling that if Howard plays better than Millsap, the Hornets will win. If Millsap outplays Howard though? The Nuggets should walk away 1-0 to begin this road trip.
Bonus: with the Hornets as injured as they are, the Nuggets bench, Mason Plumlee in particular, must be good in this game. Howard is a great test for Plumlee, as Plumlee should match up well with the big man as long as he doesn’t force contested layups. Last year, Frank Kaminsky torched Jokic, Plumlee, Kenneth Faried, and any Nuggets player in the general vicinity by hitting open threes. The Nuggets must watch him and former Nugget Johnny O’Bryant on the perimeter at all times. They could turn a 10 point lead into a 5 point deficit very quickly.