It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for the Denver Nuggets since getting back from the All-Star break. They lost their first contest, then won two straight, then got blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers, then blew out the Toronto Raptors…only to get blown out by the lowly Golden State Warriors. The inconsistency has turned the media abuzz with ruminations that this team is far from the title contender they believe themselves to be. A convincing victory over tonight’s opponent, the Charlotte Hornets, is a good way to start the path to silencing the Nuggets sudden influx of detractors.

The Hornets are mired in what feels like their twentieth straight losing season and Denver’s bench got the best of them in their previous contest. Tonight the Hornets have the luxury of their homecourt, astonishingly though they have not fared any better at home than on the road. Still, as the Nuggets found out against Golden State, these guys get paid too. While Charlotte is not a powerhouse in the NBA, they do have several young, talented players that can give any team fits on any given night. Miles Bridges is now the reigning MVP of the rising stars challenge, P.J. Washington looks like a very solid player at minimum, Devonte’ Graham is a second round gem and Terry Rozier is, well, Terry Rozier (but now more expensive!). No doubt the talent advantage is on the Nuggets side, but time and again relying on talent advantage alone has come back to bite them.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (41-21) at Charlotte Hornets (21-40)

When: 5:00 PM MST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. Game is on Altitude TV (DirecTV) and NBA League Pass (out of market) where available. Radio broadcast is on KKSE Altitude Radio 92.5FM.

Rival blog: At The Hive

Position Denver Nuggets Utah Jazz Advantage
PG Monte Morris Mike Conley Jazz
SG Torrey Craig Donovan Mitchell Jazz
SF Michael Porter Jr. Royce O'Neale Nuggets
PF Paul Millsap Joe Ingles Even
C Nikola Jokic Rudy Gobert Nuggets
Bench PJ Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop, Jerami Grant, Bol Bol, Mason Plumlee Emmanuel Mudiay, Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang, Tony Bradley Even

Injured players: Noah Vonleh – questionable (ankle), Bol Bol – out (foot), Devonte’ Graham – questionable (ankle), Malik Monk – out (suspended)

Key matchup: Gary Harris vs Terry Rozier

The emergence of Graham has allowed Rozier to do what he does best: scoring. In fact, with Graham as the set up man Rozier is having his best season ever as a scorer. Yes, some of that has to do with the fact that it’s also his first season in the NBA as a clear go to starter, but he’s also having his most efficient scoring season ever. Gary meanwhile looks like he finally might be starting to hit a groove. Outside of a tough game against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers Harris has been shooting with confidence, albeit not with great frequency. He has been Denver’s best defender all season as well which should help in keeping Rozier in check.

Key thing to watch for: fight

The Nuggets were embarrassed in the loss to Golden State, no doubt. On top of being embarrassed, every media outlet in Denver let them have it yesterday. Jamal Murray put the loss on himself, Monte Morris was quick to have his back and say its on everyone, and coach Michael Malone has simply asked the question when is it going to stop being talk in the locker room and start being results on the court. I expect the Nuggets will be all business tonight and they should put Charlotte away early and emphatically. If they don’t one has to wonder if doubt about their resolve starts to creep into their thoughts.

Opening thought: it’s a huge game

The need to bounce back from the Warriors loss is paramount and should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, it’s not simply the desire to rid the bad taste in their mouth that makes this game important. The trip to Charlotte marks the beginning of a twenty day stretch for the Nuggets where they will play eleven games, nine of which are on the road. The Hornets are also one of just four opponents in this eleven game stretch that are not playoff locks. The Nuggets in fact play just as many games against the top two seeds of each conference in the next three weeks as they do against teams who are lottery bound. They absolutely can not let this funk carry into the start of this crucial run. A win tonight is crucial.