Hornets Win Over West’s Best Ends Skid

Walker (21), Parker (19) Combine for 40 in Home Victory
by Matt Rochinski

A visit from the NBA’s hottest team might have been exactly what the Hornets needed.

Charlotte entered Friday’s game looking to put an end to its three-game losing streak as it hosted the 17-7 Denver Nuggets, who entered the game on a league-best, seven-game winning streak thanks in large part to a Top-3-ranked defense.

Behind the play of their captain, Kemba Walker (game-high 21 points), and backup point guard Tony Parker (19), the Hornets found their winning formula as the two combined for 40 points in a 113-107 victory over the Nuggets on French Heritage Night at Spectrum Center. It marked Parker’s 10th game this season scoring 10+ points after having 21 such outings in 2017-18.

“You know (Tony) has done a great job for us down the stretch. The games we’ve closed close games, he’s been a major factor, whether he hits a shot, he can take the ball out of bounds, he’s talking to our guys out there and he just settles us,” Hornets Head Coach James Borrego said of Parker. “Those fourth quarters are important times. We’re getting better in these close game situations. We don’t like getting that close but to our guys’ credit, their getting more poised and more steady down the stretch. Tony has a lot to do with that.”

In a game where Charlotte’s offensive put 113 on a top NBA defense led by 59 bench points, it was a defensive play by Hornets reserve Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that would be crucial down the stretch. With Charlotte leading 108-103 with 34 seconds remaining, MKG blocked Juancho Hernangomez’s attempt on the right block following Denver’s inbounds pass and was able to corral the loose ball and get it to Parker, who hit one of two free throws with 23 seconds left to push Charlotte’s lead to six. Walker was then able to ice the game, connecting on all four of his free throws to give the Hornets the much-needed win.

With Charlotte trailing, 25-24, after the first quarter it looked like the Hornets were trying to put the Nuggets away early as the bench exploded offensively behind 10 points apiece from Parker and Malik Monk, and six more from Frank Kaminsky. By quarter’s end, the Hornets had outscored Denver, 40-28, in the frame and built a 64-53 lead at halftime.

“I thought the bench was great tonight, especially in the first half. They got us going, brought great energy,” said Borrego. “They scored. They moved the ball. Malik was really big for us there. I thought he had a really good night. It was one of his best nights in a while so give Malik a lot of credit. He stayed ready. We trust him. He’s been working hard behind the scenes getting ready for these moments and I think he delivered tonight. Tony was great. Frank was good in the first half and MKG off the bench is just a nice spirit for us and it settles us. Bringing Marvin back into the starting lineup just balances our unit and it puts MKG back in that second unit which he really is the motor and generator in that group.”

The Nuggets didn’t go away at halftime, though and brought it back to 106-103 with 1:13 remaining before the Hornets were able to put the game away, thanks in large part to 13 fourth-quarter points from Walker.

After scoring 10 points in Minnesota on Wednesday, Monk finished with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-8 from long range. Williams, who returned sooner than expected from a right shoulder strain after missing only one game, notched his third double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) of the season after having as many such games in the entire 2017-18 season.

Jamal Murray led six Nuggets scoring in double figures with 20 points.

The Hornets now head to New York for a 7:30 p.m. tip on Sunday against the Knicks.