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Preview: Denver Nuggets look to keep rolling against Charlotte Hornets

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NBA: Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (23-16) have come out of the All-Star break winning two of three games, and they’re looking to make that three out of four against the Charlotte Hornets (20-18). Denver has won three straight games in the matchup between the two sides which has pushed them to a 31-29 advantage in the brief 60-game history between the two squads.

After a rough month of February, Denver has turned things around in the month of March as they’ve won five out of six games while boasting the seventh-best offensive rating and being sixth in net rating at +8.1 on the month. They’re in the middle of a five-game homestand, and they have a chance to take these games to put some distance between themselves and the Portland Trail Blazers, along with the rest of the bottom-half of the conference.

For Charlotte, they’ve quickly become one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA on a nightly basis. Rookie LaMelo Ball has been everything he was advertised to be. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 19.7 points, 7.9 assists and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Throw in the fact that Terry Rozier has rediscovered his “Scary Terry” ways from the Boston Celtics’ 2018 playoff run, and they’re a tough out every single night.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (23-16, 10-8 home) vs Charlotte Hornets (20-18, 8-10 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: At the Hive

Expected Starting Lineups:

MIL: PG LaMelo Ball, SG Terry Rozier, SF Gordon Hayward, PF P.J. Washington, C Cody Zeller

DEN: PG Facundo Campazzo, PG Jamal Murray, SF Will Barton, PF Michael Porter Jr., C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris, Monte Morris

Three Things to Watch

Defending the Guards

The Hornets have scored at least 100 points in all but two games this season. Both games came in the first two weeks of January. In those two games, the Hornets shot 40.7 percent and 38.0 percent from the field while shooting 29.0 percent and 26.3 percent from 3-point range. When they slump, they slump hard, but these guards don’t slump often because their rotation of guards is so deep with Devonte Graham and Malik Monk coming in off the bench to pour in points. Denver’s guard rotation is very thin right now, and they will need to play hard on both ends against this group.

Can Charlotte slow down Nikola Jokic?

If you were planning on getting value for Nikola Jokic as the MVP, your window has officially closed. Prior to the All-Star Break, he was +1600 on average at sportsbooks, and he’s now lept to an average of +220, including being the favorite in some spots. The Hornets’ center rotation is Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo. Neither of those guys are particularly great, but they’re both strong and stout defenders. Can they slow down Jokic enough to force someone else to beat them?

Who’s going to be the other guy?

Charlotte’s top three guys are going to be Rozier, Ball and Gordon Hayward, who is having a resurgent season in the Queen City. In Denver, it’s Jokic, Jamal Murray and a rotation between Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr. or whoever else is feeling themselves that night. Who’s going to be that guy tonight for Denver? Barton, for better or worse, has been bombing away coming out of the break. He’s also shooting 55.6 percent from 3-point range during this three game stretch. Porter is 24-of-37 since the break. Can either or both of them bring that tonight?