After back-to-back road wins, each featuring triple-doubles from Prime Bill Walton impersonator Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets return to the comfy confines of the Pepsi Center to face the reeling Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets just lost to the hapless Phoenix Suns and barely eked out a victory over the not-even-trying Lakers. Frank Kaminsky injured his shoulder and is out for at least this game and perhaps many more. The Hornets have only won 3 of their last 17 games, and it’s Denver’s job to make sure that slides to 3 out of 18. Charlotte is in the 7th game of a long road trip, and there’s no reason to let them hang around.

Denver will find one anyway, since they love to let teams hang around no matter how undermanned they might be. This is a game that on paper should be an easy win, but in practice will likely take some work. Strap in, Denver, and hold on.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (28-35) vs Charlotte Hornets (26-35)

When: Saturday, March 4th at 7:00 pm

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch: Altitude, AM 950

Rival Blog: At The Hive

Position Nuggets Hornets Advantage
PG Jameer Nelsom Kemba Walker Hornets
SG Gary Harris Nicolas Batum Even
SF Danilo Gallinari Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Marvin Williams Even
C Nikola Jokic Cody Zeller Nuggets
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Darrell Arthur, Juancho Hernangomez, Mason Plumlee, Mike Miller Johnny O’Bryant, Briante Weber, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb, Brian Roberts Nuggets

Injury Report: Kenneth Faried – out (back), Frank Kaminsky – out (shoulder), Miles Plumlee (aka the Charlotte Plumlee) – out (calf), Ramon Sessions – out (knee)

Key Matchup: Denver’s centers vs. Charlotte’s. Cody Zeller is a decent rotational center, but he’s coming back off a quad injury that kept him out for most of a month and has been on a minutes restriction. Just a couple of games ago, the Hornets were trying to figure out their big-man rotation and how best to deploy a healthy Kaminsky at either PF or C. That’s out the window with Frank the Tank’s shoulder injury, and with no Miles Plumlee expected to be available either, Charlotte is down to some fairly inexperienced options. Christian Wood is still figuring out how to play in the NBA, and Johnny O’Bryant will give it good effort but is a back-of-the-rotation big at best.

Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee need to dominate the boards and the offensive flow. No one on the Charlotte roster should be able to seriously impede Denver’s two-center passing attack, and Jokic can get most anything he wants – if he decides to impose his will. Sometimes he’s a little too selfless, and with the expected guard attack from Charlotte overwhelming what Denver is likely to provide from its own back court, the front court will be essential.

One thing to watch: can Denver keep up its energy from the last two games? The Nuggets were flying around the court on a back-to-back, passing and cutting and generally wreaking havoc with their starting lineup at every opportunity. Even when open shots weren’t falling the right attempts were being taken. Charlotte has been coast to coast on this road trip and is the more injured and weary team. The Nuggets have a chance to put this game away early if the starters come out on fire again and the bench can just stay even with Charlotte’s reserves.

The Hornets have the same approach that Denver sometimes takes: they try to play for two, maybe two and a half quarters and hope that’s enough to take the game. But the longer Denver lets Charlotte hang around the more of a chance there is for Belinelli to decide to have a good shooting night or Batum to resume his 2015-16 form or Kemba Walker to turn into Russell Westbrook for one game. This game is set up to favor Denver, but those are usually the games Denver squanders.

Prediction: Denver is taking its playoff push seriously. Gary Harris will need to make it tougher on Charlotte’s backcourt to get what they want, because Jameer Nelson should be starting again and is unlikely to help with that. Denver’s bench should have a decided advantage over Charlotte’s, but another disappearing act from that unit could really hurt the chances for victory. Jokic has regained his footing, though, and Danilo Gallinari has been on a tear since coming back from that groin injury. Wilson Chandler seems to have found his groove as well, and the strengths of Denver’s starting core should carry them to victory here.

114-103, Denver.

Just don’t celebrate until the game’s over and Denver has salted away the victory, all right? Don’t do this:

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