What: Charlotte Hornets (39-36) vs Denver Nuggets (44-31)
When: 7:00 pm EDT
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Sunday’s game against the Nets felt like a bit of a climax to the season. The Hornets came into the game on a hot streak, and a road win over a star-laden Nets team would put the Hornets above the Nets in the standings with the tiebreaker in hand. The Hornets won their biggest game of the season.
Less than 24 hours later, they have to get up for a home game against the Nuggets. The Nuggets are home to the 2021 NBA MVP and are very good again this year, so they won’t be taken lightly, but this game doesn’t have the same aura around it that last night did. It makes it an easy spot for the Hornets to let their guard down.
The Hornets already took the Nuggets down once this season. That win came a couple of days before Christmas. On that night, Terry Rozier and the Hornets bench outscored the Nuggets 38-13 in the fourth quarter to turn a 17 point deficit into an eight point victory. Kelly Oubre and PJ Washington caught fire from deep, and Washington put the clamps on Nikola Jokic down the stretch. Washington has continued his impeccable defense against bigs, especially late in games, but we probably can’t count on the same bench production tonight.
The loss dropped the Nuggets below .500, but they hit their stride shortly after that. They went 25-10 over their next 35 games to peak at 14 games over .500. They’ve stumbled a bit lately though. They’ve won just four of their last nine and are coming off a hard fought win against a Thunder team that is actively wanting to lose games.
The key for the Hornets tonight is obviously containing the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. Jokic is putting up similar numbers to what he did during his MVP campaign with a slight downtick in assists being made up for by a pretty substantial increase in rebounds. The Nuggets net rating is 17.2 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor than when he’s off it, which is the largest discrepancy in the league among players with over 1000 minutes played this season. The Nuggets have some decent pieces around Jokic, but with Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray both on the shelf, there’s no consistent source of production to support the Nuggets big. The Hornets will want to employ a similar strategy to what they’ve been using against other superstars. Show bodies to keep Jokic away from the basket and make him depend on his teammates.
The Nuggets have a pair of role players on the injury report as well. JaMychal Green is currently listed as questionable with a wrist injury, and Fernando Compazzo (who is actually second worst in the league in that aforementioned on/off metric) is questionable with an illness.