The Denver Nuggets have just closed out the toughest four-game stretch any team will play this year (by opponent W-L percentage and according to the Altitude broadcast team) with two wins and two last-second losses. The two wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors are keeping the Nuggets riding high, however, as they face the Charlotte Hornets in the very definition of a trap game. Denver faces the Houston Rockets after Charlotte, and if there’s a hangover effect from the win against the Warriors the Nuggets could put themselves in danger.

The Nuggets are 21-7 at home, but 3 of those losses were to the Phoenix Suns, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Good teams struggle to come into the Pepsi Center and steal games but Denver has had a habit of overlooking poorer ones. The Hornets have already beaten the Nuggets once this year and it doesn’t do Denver any good to beat the Warriors and then lose to the Hornets – they are fighting for a playoff spot, and the time for overlooking lesser opponents needs to be over with.

The Basics

Who: Charlotte Hornets (23-29) at Denver Nuggets (28-25)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: At The Hive

Injury Report

Paul Millsap – out (wrist), Mason Plumlee – out (calf), Marvin Williams – questionable (ankle)

***UPDATE: Wilson Chandler is listed as probable, but did miss shootaround with “illness.” Darrell Arthur is questionable with his trick knees, and Lydon is obviously out.

Three Things to Watch

A puncher’s chance. Kemba Walker is an All-Star, though surprisingly not in 2018. The Hornets lead the league in getting to the line, and are third-best in limiting the opposition’s attempts at the charity stripe. If Denver gets a funky whistle in this game that leads to someone like Nikola Jokic getting into early foul trouble this game could stay close, and put Denver in danger of letting Walker get into Take Over The Game mode. Without Mason Plumlee, Denver is going to be a little light in the paint against the likes of Dwight Howard, so keeping Jokic out of foul trouble gets even more crucial. The Nuggets can’t let the Hornets hang around in this one.

Bench play. The trade deadline is almost here; at game time it will be fewer than three days away. Emmanuel Mudiay has found a bit of rotation time recently, so will Denver attempt to showcase him in a matchup that might be favorable for him one last time before a possible move? The same goes for Kenneth Faried and others – playing time tonight might be out of the norm for the season, and if any moves might be imminent then sudden illnesses could befall some players. Just something to keep an eye on.

Can Denver’s Big Three perform without the spotlight shining so brightly? Nationally broadcast games and contests against the defending champs are on thing. Being consistent on a game-to-game basis is something else. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have shown over the past several games that they have the potential to be incredibly special together for a very long time. Nuggets fans are already having dreams of a sort of Duncan / Ginobili / Parker pairing that will keep them competitive for a dozen years.

But taking care of business every game is how the Spurs managed to do that. Every game, every opponent, every situation was prepared for and handled with attention to detail. Denver’s core is so very young, and hiccups in attention span happen. Tonight would be a great night to show that they are growing up in that regard as the season goes on, though.

Prediction: It’ll be a close game at the half and then Denver will pull away. I don’t believe the Hornets have the firepower to go four quarters with the Nuggets, but then I’ve felt that way before and been let down by the home team. Nevertheless: Nuggets 119, Hornets 107.