The Denver Nuggets overcame a sluggish first half to down the Charlotte Hornets 111-93 behind the strength of another great third quarter performance. Nikola Jokic only took one first-half shot but finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists in only 28 minutes as he sat the entire fourth quarter with a large lead after Denver’s 40-17 domination in the third. Jamal Murray put up 25 points and 7 assists, while MPJ added 22 points and 8 rebounds. Aaron Gordon had 10 points in his return to the lineup, Reggie Jackson had 15 strong points off the bench, and Charlotte had no second half answers despite every Charlotte starter scoring in double figures.

Game Recap

The Nuggets opened the scoring with a Jamal Murray three off a Jokic screen, but Jamal missed his next two shots on consecutive trips before passing it to MPJ for a long two. Charlotte missed a few jumpers, and Aaron Gordon made a paint bucket despite the brace and wrap on his hand, before Brandon Miller made a three for the Hornets. MPJ got blocked by Richards, who then hit a six-footer on the other end, answered by Murray. AG blocked the next shot from Richards and turned it into a Murray three, and newly-ringed Ish Smith hit a bucket for Charlotte. Murray and Ish exchanged buckets while Jokic was limited to mostly rebounds and screens, but both teams got a little sloppy in the middle of the quarter. Peyton Watson buried a wide-open three on a touch pass from Jokic, but a quick technical on KCP for a disputed call gave Charlotte the rare traditional four-point play and an 18-15 Nuggets lead.

PJ Washington’s 3 tied the game at 18, while Reggie Jackson threw an oop to Zeke Nnaji on the other end. Christian Braun finished at the rack through contact but missed his free throw, and Nnaji’s block on Miles Bridges showed the versatility of Denver’s all-switch bench unit (phrasing) that left Denver up 24-18 after one.

Denver started the second quarter with a turnover that Miles Bridges answered with a bucket, then Strawther promptly committed a charge for another turnover and another Charlotte bucket earned a Malone rage timeout. Charlotte tied the game after going to zone, Strawther brickets a three, and PJ Washington got the Hornets the lead at 26-24. Reggie Jackson tied it again with a paint bucket, and a nice Reggie-to-Strawther-to-Watson fast break helped the offense get back in rhythm. Reggie buried a three, but goaltending on Nnaji made it 31-30 Denver. Bridges hit a three for a Charlotte lead and another Nuggets timeout. Denver’s starters came back in at the 8 minute mark, but sloppiness continued. Charlotte hit a three, but travelled the next time down, while both Murray and Jokic had poor turnovers. Porter buried a corner three and Murray hit a pull-up two to retake the lead 38-37. Brandon Miller hit a three to retake the lead, answered by a Porter three off a screen. Jokic got a technical called on him, which gave him the same number of techs as first-half shot attempts, but the Nuggets kept running and made some inside shots from Aaron Gordon and KCP. The sloppy play continued through the end of the half though as Jamal turned a final-play transition attempt into a fadeaway 22-foot brick and the two teams went into the half tied at 49.

Porter hit a swing-three from the corner to start the second half scoring. Jokic missed a fallaway, but Porter got free throws on a hard drive the next time down. Jokic forced in a paint bucket, then put in a push shot and finished the three point play to make it 59-51 Denver. The Nuggets forced a 24-second violation from Charlotte, followed by a Jokic step-back and a Murray three. Jokic-to-KCP-to-Gordon for the dunk, and Murray buried a transition bucket for a 17-0 run before a Charlotte dunk. Murray got fouled on a three-pointer for free throws, then MPJ made a three and Denver was up 22 at 75-53. Murray to Jokic worked back-to-back trips down the court as Denver took complete control. Denver’s starters got a little tired and Charlotte started flopping, but we saw a rare Flopping Technical called in the wild against Charlotte on a Jokic offensive foul. Denver finished with a tough defensive bench steal and KCP finish to wrap the third quarter up 89-66.

MPJ came in with the bench to start the fourth, and Reggie Jackson immediately hit a three. Charlotte went to a zone, and MPJ missed a couple of threes, but Watson stuffed Bridges and MPJ finished a eurostep for a bucket. Christian Braun made a three to answer a Charlotte bucket, and Nnaji swatted a Charlotte attempt. Bridges hit a three but it only cut Denver’s lead back to the same 23 points. Reggie hit a beautiful finger-roll off the glass then finished it as a three-point play, but Nnaji got called for a charge next time down. Reggie dunked on a steal for 102-77 lead despite all the free throws Charlotte was getting, and Peyton Watson buried a three with MPJ’s long corner two keeping Denver firmly in control. Jalen Pickett came in to handle point guard duties with 4 minutes left in the game and Denver up 109-85, and Denver wrapped the game with a 111-93 win and a group hug for Forever Nugget Champion Ish Smith.


Final Thoughts

– AG is back, who cares about anything else!? I was afraid he would miss several more games, and while he still has stitches in his shooting hand, and a hand wrap that can’t help his shooting, it was just great to see him back out there playing basketball. I worried that he would not be able to impact the game but while he wasn’t exactly a scoring dynamo he still handled his defensive responsibilites and dunker spot scoring when available. Having him back in his normal roll was a great present for the new year – and he even hit a three!

– I care a little, and these games where Jokic decides to just not shoot for a half need to be left in 2018. It messes up the offense when he absolutely refuses to even think about shooting, and when everyone else is having a New Year’s hangover in the first half, the Nuggets need their best player to make himself a force to be concerned about. I know he likes to get everyone else involved, but part of that comes from being involved in the Jokic offense and not whatever Denver was doing in the first half. It’s not a long-term concern – Nikola knows what Denver needs from him, and if he wants to pace himself in these games against non-contenders during the course of the season then that’s up to him. But there’s a difference between pacing himself and removing himself from the game plan entirely, and Denver can’t have many of the latter especially with AG injured and the bench offense still working out the kinks. And this was evident from the 17-2 run that Denver hit Charlotte with to start the third quarter once Jokic decided to look to score. Charlotte had no answers, and because they rolled in the third quarter Jokic didn’t have to play the fourth.

– Nuggets started the New Year off on the right foot. Reggie Jackson had a good bounceback game, Jamal Murray and MPJ both had major contributions, and the Nuggets handled their business in the first game of the new year. Denver only has one back-to-back this month, and it’s coming up this week. After that, they have space between every game and the chance to really build the kind of momentum this team is looking for. Having everyone available and contributing was a wonderful way to kick off 2024. Happy New Year, Nuggets fans!