Hornets Can’t Keep Pace in Mile High Altitude
Charlotte Stays with West’s Best Until 4th Quarter in Denver
By Matt Rochinski
The Hornets knew they would have their work cut out for them as they opened their season-long, six-game West Coast trip on Saturday at the Western Conference leading Nuggets. Add to that the fact that starters Cody Zeller (right hand surgery) and Jeremy Lamb (right hamstring strain) remain out with their respective injuries, and the Hornets would have to play a nearly perfect game to come away with the win in Denver.
Devonte’ Graham (10 points, eight assists) and Bismack Biyombo (16 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks), took advantage of their opportunities in the starting lineup, and Kemba Walker paced all five starters scoring in double figures with a team-high 20 points, but it would not be enough for Charlotte in a 123-110 loss.
“I think he gave us great energy and a presence down inside offensively and defensively,” Hornets Head Coach James Borrego said of Biyombo after recording his first double-double in his first start of the year. “He had some really good finishes around the rim. We need that from him every single night. I think he’ll be much better again tomorrow night. He really anchored our defense down there and had really positive minutes.”
The Hornets stayed with the West’s best through nearly three quarters before the the Mile High altitude seemed to begin to take effect. Charlotte took a 72-71 lead with 5:05 remaining in the first and were pushing the Nuggets on their home court. But led by their All-Star center Nikola Jokic, Denver would close the frame on an 18-12 run to turn a one-point deficit into a five-point lead heading to the fourth. Jokic would finish with five points and two assists in the run to close the third and had 11 points, three assists, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in the third quarter alone.
It was more of the Jokic show in the fourth as he added 12 more points and two more rebounds while Denver outscored Charlotte, 34-26, to pull away with the win. Jokic finished with a game-high 39 points to go with 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
“You have to give Denver credit, they’re a very experienced and good team. They know how to close out games in the fourth quarter. We’re trying to get there and I think we’re working towards that,” said Borrego. “I was proud of our group tonight. We battled every single minute out there and gave ourselves a shot there in the fourth quarter. There were just too many costly mistakes and too many turnovers down the stretch - not enough defensive rebounds - they really hurt us on the boards tonight.”
Charlotte was outrebounded on the offensive glass, 17-12, setting up more second-chance opportunities for the Nuggets and leading to a 31-17 advantage in second-chance points and a 64-48 Denver lead in points in the paint.
The Hornets did outshoot the Nuggets 47.6 percent from the field to 46.1 percent, 37.9 percent from long range to 35.9 percent and 80.8 percent from the free-throw line to 75.0 percent. Still, Denver’s inside advantage would prove to be too much for Charlotte on the road.
Marvin Williams (16 points), Malik Monk (16), Nic Batum (11) and Willy Hernangomez (10) gave the Hornets a total of seven players scoring in double-figures.
“The goal on this trip is to get better - every single game, every single day,” said Borrego. “If we come out of these six games saying we’re a better team, that’s a positive for us. I think we can get there. I think we took a step in the right direction tonight.”
The Hornets next tip off at 8 p.m. on Sunday in Phoenix.