The Charlotte Hornets are back home tonight after a quick one-game stint in Florida against the Miami Heat. Tonight, the Denver Nuggets are in town. With only 14 games left in the regular season, every game matters for the Hornets. They're currently situated in the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, with just half a game separating them from the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks and just 4.5 games separating them from the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls.
The Denver Nuggets aren't all that good — they're 28-41 on the season, after all — but they still present a few matchup problems for the Hornets. Emmanuel Mudiay is one of the bigger, stronger, and faster point guards in the NBA, and should not be taken lightly simply because he's a rookie. Kemba Walker's relative veteran savvy will surely help him out, but make no mistake that Mudiay, despite the poor shooting percentages and turnover problems, is an explosive player.
The Nuggets' center tandem of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic has proven to be an effective combination of styles. Nurkic is your prototypical bruiser with some ball skills, while Jokic has range out to the 3-point line and thrives off of Mudiay's dribble penetration.
Gary Harris and Will Barton have also proven to be effective scorers, though being young they're notoriously streaky. Still, if either catches fire from beyond the arc, the Hornets might be forced to bench Al Jefferson in favor of a quicker big who can rotate well on the perimeter.
And finally, Kenneth Faried is, well, Kenneth Faried. Once regarded as one of the NBA's best young players, Faried's taken a step back this season. He's still a springy energy guy, but his defense leaves much to be desired and his offensive game isn't quite what it should be at this point in his career. It's still mostly dunks and putbacks for Faried. One thing Faried is still great at, though, is rebounding.
And really, that's all the Nuggets have going for them. They're a woefully inconsistent offensive team prone to defensive lapses, but boy, do they ever rebound the basketball. Six Nuggets are averaging five or more rebounds per game on the season, and the Nuggets as a whole are ninth in the NBA in rebounding. The Hornets are 14th.
If the Hornets are to win tonight, they shouldn't need more than average performances across the board from the Hornets' main rotation players. The Nuggets are a very beatable opponent. But, as is the case with any game against a weaker opponent, the Hornets can't afford to be complacent. The Nuggets can win. But they shouldn't.