With four games left in the regular season, the Charlotte Hornets host the Denver Nuggets in a game that may decide whether it takes one win or two to advance to the playoffs. The Hornets are hanging on to a razor thin lead over the Indian Pacers and Washington Wizards for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. The seventh and eighth place teams only need one win to make the playoffs versus two wins for the ninth and tenth, so there’s a considerable amount, for which, to play.
The Nuggets come into the Spectrum Center dealing with their own interesting play-in scenario. They are in 4th place in the West, one game back from the L.A. Clippers. Surpassing the Clippers would mean meeting the Dame Time Trailblazers in the first round. More unlikely, but possible, is overtaking the Suns and facing one of the West play-in teams which could be the champion Lakers or the Chef Steph Warriors.
Besides the seeding implications of this game, there is the Rookie of the Year race to consider. Make no mistake, LaMelo Ball should be the ROTY of this season. Picking Anthony Edwards is paramount to picking Malcom Brogdon over Joel Embiid in 2017 based solely on games missed. I can just hear the three Timberwolves fans now talking, “But Anthony Edwards is 18ppg and 5 rpg. He’s won back to back rookie of the months.” LaMelo Ball spent most of the year leading all rookies in points, rebounds, and assists and still leads everyone save in the points category he’s second to only Edwards. And they have been force feeding Edwards points in Minnesota desperately searching for something to salvage from a lost season. Ball has been up to his old tricks since returning from the wrist injury averaging 17ppg in that same time Edwards is averaging 21ppg but, again, LaMelo is playing for a playoff berth.
LaMelo should have plenty of opportunity to showcase his ROTY chops as the injury/health protocol list is extensive. Remember when Gordon Hayward played basketball? That was fun. Miles is out for the regular season in health and safety protocols. Cody Martin and Devonte’ Graham are assumed to be out with varying leg injuries. The only bright side to the Hornets injury news is that Hayward was cleared to resume “weight bearing exercises.” So, get those sets in, G. The Nuggets will be without Will Barton and PJ Dozier. However, they should have their Gordon, Aaron Gordon, back from his calf injury.
The Nuggets are eleven games up of the Hornets and have the presumptive MVP on their roster in Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets are healthier than the Hornets and added center depth during the season, something Charlotte could not accomplish. Watch for complete domination in the paint as the trio of Biyombo, Zeller, and P.J. try to contain Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and JaVale McGee. However, Rozier is coming of a 43-point performance in NOLA and may be bitter that they left the gulf with a loss. Guard playmaking and passing will allow for space to maneuver amongst the big Denver front court. On the defensive side, make Jokic a scorer. He’s shown this season he can put up numbers, but he’s more dangerous as a facilitator. The Hornets will also be sporting the mint condition jerseys, so they got that going for them.