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April 4, 2012

Following a week-long, five-game road trip in which they played several games with an extremely shorthanded roster, the New Orleans Hornets return to the comforts of home to face the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. The Hornets are seeking a 2-2 season series split with the Nuggets, having posted one of their best victories of the season on Jan. 9 in Denver by a 94-81 margin. The Nuggets downed the Hornets in New Orleans back on Jan. 6 by a 96-88 margin, then prevailed in Colorado on March 9 by virtue of a 110-97 tally.

With seven home games over the next 16 days, the Hornets are hoping to close out the 2011-12 regular with a much higher rate of success in the New Orleans Arena. They won just twice in the Hive during the month of March, although the triumphs were memorable ones, over projected Western Conference playoff squads Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Spearheaded by Carl Landry, the Hornets bench has delivered a few of its best performances of the season against Denver. Landry scored a team-best 21 points against the Nuggets in the Jan. 9 win, after registering 15 points in a reserve role on Jan. 6. On March 9, the Hornets high scorer also came off the bench, with Lance Thomas piling up a career-high 18 points, including 12-for-14 accuracy from the foul line. During the West Coast trip, Landry was moved into the starting lineup out of necessity, but Thomas has remained an important contributor. Greivis Vasquez (16 points on Jan. 6) and Xavier Henry (12 points on March 9) have also posted double-digit scoring games this season against the Nuggets while coming off the bench.

Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Marco Belinelli vs. Arron Afflalo
Belinelli had perhaps the finest two-game stretch of his career during the recent road trip, scoring 22 points at Golden State and 27 the next night in Portland. Belinelli has also enjoyed success against Denver this season, going a combined 8-for-16 from three-point range over the three head-to-head contests. Afflalo, regarded around the league as an above-average defender, will try to keep Belinelli from getting hot from the perimeter, one key factor behind several of New Orleans recent victories.


HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT: DENVER NUGGETS

Overview
Like for the Hornets, one of the biggest stories of the Nuggets 2011-12 season has unfortunately been injuries. Denver started the season with an excellent record of 14-5, but a combination of players missing time due to injuries began to have a cumulative negative effect. Over the past two-plus months, the Nuggets have had a difficult time putting together any lengthy winning streaks, causing them to hover just above the .500 mark. As a result, theyre now in the middle of a heated battle to try to secure one of the final Western Conference playoff berths. Several of the Nuggets remaining road games are against formidable West foes, making their final stop of 2011-12 to New Orleans a critical contest.

What's new
The Nuggets werent necessarily expected to participate in the NBAs trade-deadline frenzy of mid-March, so it came as a surprise when they decided to deal longtime frontcourt stalwart Nene to the Washington Wizards in exchange for JaVale McGee. The 24-year-old McGee is five years younger than Nene and a more athletic player, but does not possess the bulk or low-post moves of his predecessor in the pivot. Through his first handful of games in a Denver uniform, McGee has appeared to be a good fit with a team that likes to push the ball for fast-break opportunities, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds.

Nuggets star
While some teams have recently tried to build a title contender around a core of stars (Miami, New York), the Nuggets are one of the few playoff-contending clubs in the NBA who did not have anyone representing them in the 2012 All-Star Game. The Nuggets success is based on a by-committee approach that relies heavily on the contributions of multiple players. In fact, seven different Nuggets are averaging double-figure scoring. Ty Lawson leads that group at 15.6 points per game. The lightning-quick 5-foot-11 point guard from North Carolina was supposed to be a below-average shooter entering the NBA, but is near 50 percent from the field in his career.

Nugget on the rise
Rookie power forward Kenneth Faried was virtually unknown to most basketball fans prior to leading tiny Morehead State to a first-round NCAA Tournament upset of Louisville in 2011. While in college, Faried set an NCAA record by pulling down 1,673 career records. The 6-foot-8, 228-pounders individual and team accomplishments resulted in him being chosen 22nd in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Nuggets. Through two-thirds of his professional debut, it appears as though perhaps Faried shouldve been picked even earlier than No. 22. Nicknamed Manimal, the 22-year-olds aggressiveness in the paint has given Denver a significant boost as it tries to compensate for injuries to key frontcourt players.

On the sideline
George Karl has led the Nuggets to the NBA playoffs in each of the past seven years, highlighted by a thrilling run to the 2009 Western Conference finals, where they were defeated by the eventual NBA champion Lakers. However, the Nuggets have been knocked out in the first round of the postseason in every other instance under Karl. The North Carolina alum and former guard ranks seventh in the NBA all-time in coaching victories and will likely move ahead of Larry Brown at some point next season.

Did you know?
As one of the more accessible organizations in the league, the Nuggets agreed to allow the cable network NBA TV to film a behind-the-scenes show on this season. The monthly show is called The Association: Denver Nuggets. The show perhaps best described as a combination of a documentary and reality TV program features numerous interviews with Karl and his players, telling the story of the 2011-12 club in a unique way. The Association also can be viewed at any time on NBA.com.

Players the Nuggets want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Nuggets need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through April 3)
Danilo
Gallinari
85.3
Playing status in doubt due to March 19 broken thumb.
Arron
Afflalo
79.8
Has already set his career high for attempts in a season.
Wilson
Chandler
78.7
Re-signed with Denver in March after playing in China.
Name Career three-point percentage (through April 3)
Arron
Afflalo
40.4
Third season with Denver after two as a Detroit Piston.
Ty
Lawson
38.1
Third-year pro was better in first (41.0) and second (40.4) seasons.
Danilo
Gallinari
36.8
Scored game-high 23 points in Denver's previous trip to NOLA.



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