The Denver Nuggets came into tonight with a point to prove. Despite only losing twelve games all season, half of them have been against some of the worst teams in the league. With the 15-28 Charlotte Hornets in town the Nuggets made sure it wasn’t happening again tonight. It ended up being a bittersweet victory for Denver as Michael Porter Jr. and P.J. Dozier shined in big moments but Jamal Murray went down with an ankle injury in the first half and did not return. The Nuggets got up big and then held off a late comeback attempt only to drive up the score again and win easily 100-86.

The Nuggets defense was alive early and they found a little success inside on offense. Emphasis on little because the Nuggets managed just four points in the first three minutes but Cody Zeller was the only one who had scored on Charlotte’s side so it didn’t hurt them too much. Denver eventually got it rolling, still attacking the paint mostly, but then the defensive pressure slipped a bit and Charlotte took the lead. They continued to hold the lead as the benches checked in with Jerami Grant hitting threes for Denver and keeping it close. Michael Porter Jr. got a couple of and-ones and in general the bench play was strong so that allowed the Nuggets to take back the lead. MPJ led the charge in the closing minutes but Denver struggled on the glass and only had a three point lead at the end of the quarter.

Porter picked up where he left off in the first quarter and rattled off a quick eleven points in about three minutes. The Hornets weren’t keeping pace with Porter but they got enough threes to at least keep the Nuggets from growing the lead too much. After a timeout, the Nuggets stopped feeding Porter the ball and the offense stalled, luckily Charlotte failed to take advantage. The starters checked back in and immediately went on a run, Jokic got a putback at the 3:30 mark to grow the Nuggets lead to double digits. Denver’s defense had really tightened up with the quarter closing as well. Torrey Craig in particular was playing strong on that end. At the one and a half minute mark Murray landed on Terry Rozier’s foot and twisted his ankle, he had to be helped off the court and went straight to the locker room. The seemed to anger the Nuggets and they channeled that energy to grow the lead to fifteen by the end of the half.

The third quarter started with Monte Morris in the starting lineup and Murray officially ruled out of the game. Even with Jamal out the Nuggets kept right on humming to start the second half and grew their lead to twenty. Cody Zeller and Terry Rozier answered and stopped the bleeding for the Hornets though they still trailed by more than a dozen at the halfway mark of the quarter. P.J. Dozier checked in for the first time in his Nuggets career with the quarter winding down, meanwhile the Hornets were keeping the pressure on and chipping away at the Nuggets lead. Denver’s offense had stalled, there was too much standing around at the perimeter and once Nikola went to the bench the ball movement was essentially nil. Behind Rozier and Devonte Graham the Hornets reduced the lead to five by the time the quarter ended.

Dozier opened the final quarter on fire and scored nine straight for the Nuggets to get the lead back up to double digits. He led a huge (literally) bench unit who kept their own on the court and kept the lead growing. By the time the quarter reached the halfway point Dozier had twelve points, checked out to roaring applause and holding a near twenty point lead. After a pair of technicals on the Hornets the Nuggets lead was twenty-one and the energy sort of left the game. Jokic kept Denver in front before both teams emptied out their benches. Vlatko Cancar got some burn (and a bucket!!) and the Nuggets close out the Hornets 100-86

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Cody Zeller

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The center battle was pretty spicy tonight. To start the game Zeller gave the Nuggets a little trouble inside and overall had about as solid of a game as you can hope for from Cody Zeller. Bismack Biyombo also got plenty of burn against Nikola and things got a bit chippy after Biyombo put a big scratch down Nikola’s arm. Jokic didn’t have a huge night scoring but he did a very good job distributing the basketball and was efficient with his shooting. Once Murray went out Denver struggled to move the ball without him on the court so Joker was vital to the win.

Main thing I noticed: Nuggets might have to weather an extended Murray absence

Murray’s turned ankle was not pretty to look at and here’s hoping he will be back ASAP. No one is tougher than Jamal so if anyone can play through the pain it’s him. If he does end up missing multiple games (and a tweet from Murray late in the fourth hinted that might be the case) the Nuggets are going to have to find a way to adapt. Dozier wasn’t expecting to play tonight, I’m sure, but he performed extremely well nonetheless. Obviously you can’t expect that type of performance out of P.J. every night (though, in all honesty, it is what he did every night in the G-League so…). Murray’s injury comes at the same time as Gary Harris’ which is going to put added pressure on guys like Dozier, Morris and Malik Beasley to step up.

Closing thought: pretty cool to see the young guys shine

Tonight’s game really was all about MPJ’s run in the first half and Dozier’s run in the second. It’s weird to say given the Nuggets win this one going away but without those two spurts there’s a good chance they lose. Porter gave the Nuggets the big lead to begin with when we went unconscious to start the second quarter. Meanwhile Dozier almost single handedly ended the Hornets run in the third that brought them to within five. With Denver starting to feel the injury bug it is great to see both these guys have big nights. It’s also cool to see that even though guys like Jokic, Murray and Harris are still relatively young, the Nuggets have an even younger wave of players that also look like legitimate NBA talents.