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Recap: Nuggets falter in fourth quarter, lose season series to Charlotte

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Even with a Nikola Jokic triple-double, defensive shortcomings and a poor bench performance doomed Denver.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

In a must-win, the Denver Nuggets received a must-lose performance on defense and from their bench unit as a whole, losing 122-114 to the Charlotte Hornets. Nikola Jokic posted his sixth triple-double, putting Denver on his back for the second straight time against the Hornets, meeting the same fate on both occasions. Kemba Walker and Frank Maminsky led the way for the Hornets with 31 and 23 points apiece.

The Nuggets trotted out a lineup of Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic to start the game. Wilson Chandler moved to the bench, presumably to make up for lost scoring from Will Barton. Denver started with Jokic guarding Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, an interesting wrinkle meant to keep Jokic out of bad pick and roll scenarios. To begin the game, it worked too. The Nuggets played strong interior defense to begin the game, while Jokic and Gallinari generated offense on the other end. Denver struggled to hit their open jump shots though, starting the game just 1/6 from behind the three point line.

Jamal Murray entered the game and immediately turned the ball over, a real reason to limit minutes. Gallo made a second three, this time and And-1 opportunity. Juancho Hernangomez entered, generating a steal, which Murray promptly loses out of bounds due to bad focus. He made up for it with a three pointer off a pick and roll. Denver shot very well to end the quarter, going on an 8-0 to stretch their lead to 32-24 to end the first.

The second quarter began with some strong ball movement from a Murray-Harris-Chandler-Hernangomez-Plumlee lineup, but the shots did not drop. On the other end, the Hornets were generating open shots left and right, and once they started to fall, Malone called a timeout. Denver came back and generated some solid shot attempts. Juancho played really well during this stretch, taking advantage of some sloppy passing and getting all the way to the rim on a dribble hand off with Plumlee. He missed the layup, but because he wasn’t stopped, Plumlee had an easy putback layup.

One big development from this game was the way Malone managed the minutes of Murray and Hernangomez. Murray played in the first quarter with Nelson, and he played in the second quarter with Nelson as well. Hernangomez getting minutes at all was a huge step. Jokic and the rest of the starters began to flood back in, and Denver continued playing well on both ends. Nelson in particular hit a couple of transition threes, making Charlotte pay for focusing on Jokic and company. As soon as I say that, Nelson gets taken advantage of on defense, turns the ball over on a poor decision in the pick and roll, and it leads to a dunk on the other end. Law of averages I guess.

For the next three minutes, I can count with two fingers how many times Jokic touched the ball below the three point line. Naturally, the Hornets went on a 9-1 run, tying the game right before the second quarter. For the rest of the quarter, offensive rebounding and rotations killed Denver on defense, but the Nuggets made shots a little more frequently on the other end. After giving up an And-1 to Kemba Walker on a switch, Jokic hit a rainbow three pointer to end the half, saving the Nuggets a bit, They were tied with Charlotte at 56 going into halftime.

The Nuggets began the second half strongly. Jokic really dictated the offense, and the commitment to defense early helped Denver jump out to an early lead. Unfortunately, a Jameer Nelson special (transition semi-contested three pointer), led to an And-1 on the other end with a foul committed by...Jameer Nelson.

Then, Jokic’s life ended.

Better luck next year big guy. Good thing Gallo canned a three pointer on the other end, causing Steve Clifford to rip out the rest of his hair.

The first substitution off the bench in the third quarter was Murray, not Chandler at around the 5:15 mark. Murray made an immediate impact, generating some nice ball movement offensively. The Nuggets really began turning it on at this point on both ends, going on a 17-8 run throughout the third quarter.

The injection of Faried into the starting lineup has an impact, to say the least. The Nuggets finished up on the Hornets 94-86 after three quarters.

Kemba Walker started the fourth quarter for the Hornets, something he doesn’t normally do. With the season on the line though, it’s unsurprising. He canned a three pointer and hit and And-1 early in the fourth, cutting Denver’s lead to three. Denver collapsed even further at this point, giving up a 12-0 run to start the fourth. Malone immediately brought in the starters at this point, and Jokic immediately picked up his triple-double on a Gallinari transition three. Denver couldn’t stop Charlotte on defense though, giving role players like Marco Belinelli and Frank Kaminsky repeated chances to burn them from behind the arc.

To close the game, Marvin Williams and Kaminsky made their impact felt on both ends, with Williams protecting the rim and Faried and Gallinari forgetting to guard Kaminsky on the other end behind the three point line. Murray hit a three pointer, but took another bad one as well. Down seven, Jokic hit a three pointer, but it was too little, too late. The Hornets walked to the free throw line, kept Denver at an arm’s length away, and beat the Nuggets

Two Takeaways:

For the mother of all that is holy, who needs to get it through to these Nuggets that Nikola Jokic needs to post up in crunch time? I don’t know what I have to keep writing about on this blog to make the message any clearer, so I will use a bigger font. Nikola Jokic needs to post up at the end of basketball games. Stop doing other things. They are stupid.

***

Defense and the bench fail the Nuggets. Again.

The starters for the Nuggets accounted for 95 points, while the bench accounted for just 19 points on 8/24 shooting. That pretty much tells the story, as the bench lineup completely gave up at the beginning of the fourth quarter, looking hapless against Marco Belinelli and Frank Kaminsky. I’m really disappointed in the performance of Wilson Chandler and Mason Plumlee over the last few games. In the face of adversity, neither guy has put together a good game on both ends since the Cleveland Cavaliers game. They are the backbone of the bench with this starting lineup, and it hurts the Nuggets if neither can be counted on for a consistent performance.

Final Thought: It’s time to mail it in.

I don’t care that Jusuf Nurkic recently was deemed out for a couple of weeks. The Nuggets don’t deserve the playoffs. Giving up 66 points in the second half to the Charlotte Hornets is just unacceptable. Jameer Nelson just went down with a strained calf. Hold him out, start Jamal Murray at point guard, bring Emmanuel Mudiay out of retirement to play point guard on the second unit, and give Juancho Hernangomez some more run. This performance is just so disheartening. If the main group isn’t going to win against the Hornets and Frank Kaminsky, then they sure ain’t gonna win the rest of these games. Play the young guys and see what they can do.