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Game Preview: Charlotte Hornets (8-19) vs. Denver Nuggets (12-15)

The Hornets will look to make it three wins in a row as the Nuggets come to Charlotte.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Denver Nuggets (12-15) vs. Charlotte Hornets (8-19)

When: 7pm EST

Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC

TV: Fox Sports South; League Pass

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to build off of two straight wins against Philadelphia and Utah, and play host to an up and down Denver Nuggets team, Monday night. Starting 2-7, they looked destined for one of the bottom seeds in the Western Conference. Then, they won eight of their next ten games to get above .500, only to lose seven of their next eight. Currently, they are riding a two game winning streak.

Denver is led by Ty Lawson, who is averaging 15.2 points and 10.7 assists a game. Russian big man Timofey Mozgov leads the team in rebounding at 8.1 a game, and also averages a 1.4 blocks. Scoring output also comes from Arron Afflalo (15.0 points per game), and Wilson Chandler (14.4 points per game).

Kenneth Faried, whom the Nuggets signed to a multi-year extension earlier this year, averages 10.8 points, and 6.8 rebounds per game. If that appears very average for a player expected to lead the Nuggets in the front court, it's because the Manimal's season has been just that. The cause, as Mike Olson over at SB Nation's Denver Stiffs writes, is largely to blame for the increased expectations brought on by Faried himself after signing the extension:

The through-line of these interviews seems to suggest that Faried feels that his new contract carries with it expectations, that he suddenly be more than what got him here in the first place: Energy, intensity, rebounds, and putbacks. It's as if he never realized his value has never been in being the primary option, but rather the insurance policy. If so, it's a shame he's changed those aspects of his game while searching for whatever fool's gold is buried in his own hidden expectations.

It seems Faried is trying to be more than the player he is, simply because he believes he has to do more. Oh, and as a side note, I'd recommend reading Olson's entire article, which has an absolutely killer opening story.

Reading Olson's comments on Faried, I can't help but feel the same could be said for Charlotte's own Lance Stephenson. Signing in Charlotte brought increased expectations from both fans and Stephenson himself, and he undoubtedly wanted to have a larger role than he's ever had. Because of that, he's playing outside of the strengths that make him great, and his game is suffering for it. Add in the scrutiny from fans, writers, and probably Stephenson himself, and the pressure to do what's expected of him only increases with each poor performance. But I digress.

Denver's problems extend beyond Faried. Injuries are once again a factor, with the most recent causality being Danilo Gallinari, who tore the meniscus in his good knee just this week. And when I say "good knee," it's because Gallinari is trying to make a comeback from tearing the ACL in his other knee almost a year and a half a go. Gallinari is just the start. Darrell ArthurRandy Foye, and JaVale McGee are all out as well, leaving the Nuggets' roster thin, much like last season.

The Hornets should look to capitalize on Denver's thin roster, and will be led by a surging Kemba Walker, who statistically has been on fire in the month of December, averaging 21.3 points per game, with a field goal and 3-point percentage of 44.7. Steve Clifford said in Saturday's post game press conference that it was only a matter of time before the shots started falling for Walker, given how much work he put in this offseason. While his decision making, particularly late in games, needs to improve, it's great to see the shots starting to fall again.

Charlotte should look to slow the game down a bit, as Denver plays the fifth quickest pace in the league, averaging 96 possessions per 48 minutes. Continuing to play stronger defense is a must as well. Charlotte is still a better defensive team than they are offensive, and should maintain focus on that end. Avoiding a fourth quarter collapse, as they did Saturday against Utah, is another trend that must continue.

Players To Watch:

  • Gerald Henderson: Filling in as the starter for Stephenson the past two games, Henderson is averaging 14 points and four assists per game, with a field goal percentage of 56.5 percent. These numbers reflect what Henderson has done much of his career, but they have been an added boost considering Stephenson's poor shooting percentages this season. Can Henderson make it three good games in a row?
  • Gary Harris: The rookie from Michigan State isn't putting up eye popping numbers, but in the five Nuggets wins he's played in, Harris is averaging 6.8 points in 17.6 minutes. In the seven losses he's been a apart of, he's averaged just 0.7 points a game in 11.2 minutes. In other words, if Harris is shooting well, he provides nearly seven more points a game to a team that averages 102.2. He's not the main threat on the court, but he's a player the Hornets don't want to let beat them.
  • Wilson Chandler: Chandler is their best 3-point shooter, averaging 37.8 percent from beyond the arc, attempting 6.1 a game. He isn't afraid to shoot, so Michael Kidd-Gilchrist must make those six attempts difficult ones.