The Denver Nuggets are rolling. Winners of seven straight, including three straight on the road, Denver is flying atop the Western Conference and getting national buzz. With their defense much improved thanks in large part to a healthy Paul Millsap and their offense still running through star center Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets are firing on all cylinders. It hasn’t been all roses though, as Denver has fought some injuris and will have to do it again tonight in their matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Hornets are led by star point guard Kemba Walker, the type of ultra quick, ultra lethal score first but still can playmake for others point guard that coach Michael Malone would love to put Gary Harris on. Harris is out with a hip injury though, as is Will Barton, meaning Torrey Craig, the gritty two-way contract turned full NBA deal underdog story, will have the task of slowing down Kemba’s attack. Craig had played very well as a defender (as is his reputation) up until the last game against the Orlando Magic where he had trouble keeping track of Evan Fournier. The Nuggets are going to need Craig’s very best tonight if they hope to keep the win streak alive.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (17-7) at Charlotte Hornets (11-13)

When: 5:00 PM MST

Where: Spectrum Center, Charlotte NC

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV,, the AltitudeNOW App and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: At the Hive

Position Nuggets Hornets Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Kemba Walker Hornets
SG Torrey Craig Jeremy Lamb Hornets
SF Juancho Hernangomez Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Even
PF Paul Millsap Nicolas Batum Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Cody Zeller Nuggets
Bench Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, Mason Plumlee, Monte Morris Frank Kaminsky, Miles Bridges, Tony Parker, Malik Monk Nuggets

Injured players: Gary Harris – out (hip), Will Barton – out (groin), Isaiah Thomas – out (hip), Michael Porter Jr – out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt – out (foot), Marvin Williams – out (shoulder)

Key matchup: Paul Millsap vs whoever

When Marvin Williams went down with a shoulder injury against the New Orleans Pelicans last Sunday it created a massive hole at the PF position for the Hornets. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves they tried Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out at the spot and Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson both registered double-doubles. Meanwhile, Millsap has been having a resurgent year now that he is healthy and fully integrated into the role that maximizes his talents in Denver. We’ve seen quite a bit of old school, bully ball from Paul during this stretch so expect to see more of it tonight. I would not be surprised if Millsap sees a heavy dose of the rookie Miles Bridges, who has some strength to combat the 13 year veteran.

Key thing to watch for: controlling Kemba

As I said, Torrey Craig is going to likely get the bulk of the work defending Walker and that’s going to be a tall task. It might also be a blessing in disguise though. Craig’s at his best defending the ball handler one on one, not playing the role of help off ball. Kemba is one of the best one on one players out there with the ability to beat you from the three point line or by driving to the rim. It’s one of those games you hope to see Craig shine, but even if he does it’s still going to take a full team effort to stop a player as good as Walker. Against the Magic we saw the Nuggets defense slip a bit. They allowed Orlando to shoot 40% from three and Fournier (who primarily was covered by Craig) hit six threes of his own, almost all of them from the left corner while he was inexplicably wide open. Just stopping Kemba from scoring isn’t enough either because he can still make plays for others, the Nuggets need to play full team defense tonight.

Opening thought: this one makes me nervous

Denver has been playing so well over the past two weeks that you’re almost just waiting for the let down. It almost happened in Orlando but luckily the Nuggets escaped in overtime (or maybe just outlasted in overtime). Charlotte is not as good of a team as the Nuggets and the records show it, but they do have either the best or second best player on the floor. Whether you believe Kemba or Jokic is better its not a huge gap between the two in terms of impact so something as simple as home court advantage could swing the game into the Hornets favor. However, time and again this season Denver has triumphed where they might not have in the past so part of me believes the Nuggets are going to win this game, take care of business in Atlanta tomorrow and close out an undefeated five game road trip. Still, if they’re going to slip up, I’d put my money on it happening tonight.