By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 25, 2013
With a sparkling 31-3 record in the Pepsi Center, the Denver Nuggets own one of the most significant homecourt advantages in the NBA. The Nuggets play their home games at altitude in the Mile High City, giving them an edge on visiting teams not accustomed to the thin air. The Nuggets’ dominance in Denver is something the New Orleans Hornets have already twice witnessed this season, to the tune of 18- and 15-point defeats.
Fortunately for the Hornets, their third and final matchup of 2012-13 against the Nuggets will take place in New Orleans on Monday evening. With less than a month remaining in the season, Denver is just 16-19 on the road, a drastic difference from its effectiveness at home.
Overall, the Nuggets will enter Monday's game in New Orleans with a 15-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history.
The Hornets struggled to keep up with the fast-paced Nuggets in the previous two encounters, falling by final margins of 102-84 and 113-98. Denver led by 22 points through three quarters on Nov. 25; in the Feb. 1 meeting, it outscored New Orleans in each of the final three periods to methodically take control. Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez were the only Hornets players to reach double figures in scoring in both games against the Nuggets, averaging 18.5 and 13.5 points, respectively.
If New Orleans is to break through for its first victory this season against Denver, it must do a much better job of protecting the ball. The opportunistic Nuggets often capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes, making the Hornets’ 35 combined turnovers in the prior two matchups a severe problem. New Orleans actually shot very well in the Feb. 1 game, at 52.8 percent from the field, but committed 21 turnovers. Denver parlayed many of those miscues into easy baskets at the other end of the floor, partly accounting for the Nuggets’ 62-point eruption in the second half.
Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Eric Gordon vs. Andre Iguodala
Iguodala has been a major thorn in the Hornets’ sides this season, his first as a member of the Nuggets. Perhaps best known for his defense, the athletic Iguodala has also been Denver’s leading scorer in each victory vs. New Orleans, tallying 23 and 24 points, respectively. Gordon missed the Nov. 25 game at Denver prior to making his season debut Dec. 29, then had eight points on 3-for-8 shooting on Feb. 1.
While the majority of national attention recently was focused on the Miami Heat’s historic winning streak, the Nuggets have quietly also been one of the NBA’s hottest teams. After starting the season at a so-so 11-12, Denver won 35 of its next 45 games, building a 47-22 overall record through March 22. In doing so, the Nuggets also put together their own double-digit winning streak, the longest since the franchise switched leagues from the ABA to the NBA in the 1970s. Early in the season, Denver played numerous road games, but the schedule has shifted in a favorable direction. The Nuggets have been nearly unbeatable in Colorado since the early portion of the season. Denver’s roster is very similar to the club that was ousted by the Lakers in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, but the acquisition of wing standout Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia has proven to be a tremendous boost.
Arguably the most balanced team in the entire NBA, the Nuggets did not have an All-Star representative in February, but it hasn’t stopped them from rising to the Western Conference elite. If you had to pick one player who is most crucial to Denver’s success, it’s probably fourth-year point guard Ty Lawson. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound catalyst leads his team in scoring and assists, as the focal point of a high-charged attack.
On the rise
Nicknamed “Manimal” due to his aggressive, frenetic style of play in the paint, second-year power forward Kenneth Faried was an absolute steal as the 22nd overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-8 Morehead State product leads the Nuggets in rebounding, frequently grabbing loose balls in traffic against bigger players.
With proven contributors such as point guard Andre Miller, center JaVale McGee and wing scorers Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer, Denver’s bench has been a big reason behind the team’s outstanding 2012-13. Nuggets reserves tallied 33 and 35 points in their wins over the Hornets and have a clear advantage against the majority of opposing teams.
On the sideline
Longtime NBA head coach George Karl has guided the Nuggets to a winning record in each of his eight full seasons at the helm, including four straight 50-win campaigns, a run interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2011-12 year. Karl ranks sixth in NBA history in coaching victories, with over 1,100 and counting.
Did you know?
The Nuggets possess the third-longest active streak of reaching the NBA playoffs, with nine consecutive postseason berths. San Antonio (15 times) and Dallas (12) are the only clubs with lengthier streaks.
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