Despite being on a five game road trip, the Denver Nuggets were red hot. Winners of seven straight, the Nuggets were looking to extend that streak to eight in Charlotte against the Hornets. Unfortunately for Denver, the Hornets used a huge second quarter to build a big lead that the Nuggets were ultimately unable to claw their way back from. Kemba Walker, Malik Monk and even Tony Parker gave Denver all they could handle from the perimeter to lead the way. Despite some strong performance from the Nuggets bigs Nikola Jokic and Paull Millsap, and a spirited comeback effort late, the Hornets were too much. They win 113-107 and snap Denver’s seven game win streak.
Millsap opened the game making the Hornets pay down low despite the fact that Marvin Williams suited up. However, the Hornets were able to get the offense going after a brief sluggish start on their end. As was the case often against the Orlando Magic two days ago, the Nuggets were struggling on their defensive rotations and leaving shooters wide open at the three point line. The lackadaisical defense cost the Nuggets a golden opportunity as the one player on Charlotte who wasn’t scoring was Kemba. Nonetheless, the Hornets worked their way to an early lead. Millsap carried the offensive load for Denver throughout the quarter which had a slower methodical pace. The Nuggets bench checked in to close out the quarter and immediately went on a run to seize the lead for Denver. Tony Parker knocked down a three in the waning seconds which trimmed the Nuggets lead to just one point after the first.
Charlotte’s bench responded in the second, opening the quarter on an 8-2 run to take back the lead. Frank Kaminsky was playing very well, hitting threes and also working inside. Tony Parker was playing well also, looking like the Parker of old in flashes. On the Nuggets end the bench had stalled on offense, they finally broke out of their funk with an alley oop from Monte Morris to Mason Plumlee but Monk had joined the scoring action and Charlotte had pushed the lead to double digits. Denver’s bench pushed back before the starters checked back in but Parker was getting by whomever the Nuggets put on him. Despite being thirty-six years old he was too quick to keep from getting to the basket. By the time he checked out Charlotte’s lead was back above ten once again. Monk picked right up where Parker left off as the Nuggets defense really fell apart in the second quarter. They couldn’t keep anyone from getting into the lane and they didn’t close out hard enough on three point shooters. With the half winding down the Nuggets starters found a little momentum behind Juancho Hernangomez but Walker provided a response for the Hornets. The Nuggets gave up forty points to Charlotte in the quarter and trailed by eleven after the first half.
The Nuggets opened the second half with a four point possession after Charlotte fouled before the ball was inbounded and then gave up an and 1. That would be about all the offense Denver would get in the first few minutes of the half though. The defense had tightened up luckily which kept Charlotte from expanding their lead. Denver’s starters chipped away at the lead, at the half way point of the quarter they had got it all the way down to four. Right as the Nuggets were building momentum, it appeared that Millsap hurt his toe on a drive and had to come out, he would not return. Coach Malone left Jokic in for an extended period of time in the quarter and while he wasn’t scoring much he facilitated the offense to keep slowly closing the gap. Charlotte had gone ice cold on the offensive end and the Nuggets were giving them nothing easy, Hernangomez highlighted the defensive effort with an emphatic swat of Parker. Jay Triano took a timeout right when the Nuggets had got the lead all the way down to one point. That move paid off as the Nuggets bench got sloppy in the closing minutes of the quarter. Monk drew an and 1 in the final seconds to cap off a 9-2 run by Charlotte to push the lead back up to eight after three.
Murray was struggling to find his range from three point land but he opened the fourth with a pair of buckets. Around the nine minute mark there was a scary moment when Trey Lyles’ elbow collided with Monte Morris’ face on a rebound. Morris tumbled to the floor and stayed down forcing a stoppage in play. He would check out of the game and the Nuggets seemed to lose their energy. Charlotte took advantage to push the lead back up to ten behind Walker. Malone brought Jokic back in at the seven minute mark to try and turn the tide one last time. Kemba was in full star mode though and kept pushing out the Hornets lead. Jokic worked in the lane to keep the Nuggets afloat but they were quickly running out of time. Murray joined in on the action and was aggressive as well, but like Jokic he just couldn’t get enough points quick enough to pull Denver back within striking distance. The starters made one last push with three minutes to go, Beasley hit a three and Murray followed it up with a mid range jumper to pull within six. The Hornets went cold from the floor and with just over a minute to go Morris hit a three to pull Denver within three. The Hornets turned to the veteran Parker with Morris on him and he nailed a mid range jumper to push Charlotte back up by five. Juancho got a good look down beneath the basket but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had an amazing block to put the icing on the cake. There’d be a couple of fouls but the Hornets ultimately get the win 113-107.
Best matchup: Paul Millsap vs Marvin Williams
It didn’t look like Williams was going to go this morning but low and behold he suited up and started. It was good news for the Hornets because not only did Marvin provide them with some much needed size, but he brought energy and scoring as well. In fact, he was playing so hard the tape on his hurt shoulder kept falling off. Millsap continued his strong play in the post on both sides of the floor as well. Even with Williams being a bigger four, Millsap was still able to use his strength to get inside and get easy baskets. It was a big blow when Paul hurt his toe in the third quarter and had to come out, but he was still very effective when he was on the court.
Key thing I noticed: the Nuggets missed Gary Harris tonight
The Nuggets have been able to get several wins during their seven game win streak without Harris but tonight they really missed his services. Craig was a complete non-factor on the offensive end and the Nuggets defense suffered for the second game in a row, especially when it came to defending the perimeter, whether that was the three point shot or dribble penetration. Kemba got off to a slow start but in the second half the Nuggets had no answer for him, particularly early in the fourth quarter. Those are all the types of things that can be alleviated with the help of Harris. While he may be out for a while, at least Will Barton should be back soon which if nothing else should help out on the offensive end where Craig just hasn’t been able to put it together.
Closing thought: it was bound to happen
It would have been really cool to go undefeated on the road trip and the Nuggets had it within their sights after they won the opening two games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors, but even with that it was still a very tough task. There’s a lot to like about this Charlotte roster with its combo of star power, young talent and veteran leaders. It reminds me a lot of the Nuggets just a season or two ago. As I said in the preview, if there was a game out of the last three on this road trip that was the one the Nuggets were likely to lose, it was this one. There’s just something about playing in Charlotte that has been difficult to overcome for this Nuggets team. Give credit to the Hornets, they got the big lead in the second and weathered more than one storm in second half when the Nuggets tried to come back.