Preview: Denver Nuggets wrap up homestand against Hornets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following their big win against the LA Clippers, the Denver Nuggets look to end their three-game homestand the right way when they take on the Charlotte Hornets for the first time this season.

Denver (27-12) bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday and defeated the Clippers. The Nuggets held a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half and impressed on both ends of the floor.

The focus is still on improving the level of play on the defensive end given that Denver ranks last in the league in defensive rating over the past two weeks. The Nuggets’ offense ranks fifth in the league over this stretch and has fueled their recent success.

Charlotte (15-28) is concluding a four-game road trip in Denver and is looking to snap a five-game losing streak. The Hornets’ offseason was headlined by the departure of franchise legend Kemba Walker, but the Hornets have impressed with their ability to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The two teams have split the past four meetings and the all-time series is tied at 29 wins apiece.

Here are three keys to Wednesday’s contest:

Limiting Charlotte’s dynamic backcourt

As mentioned earlier, the Hornets saw their All-Star point guard depart in free agency and ended up signing Terry Rozier as a potential replacement. While Rozier has certainly stepped up his play this season in a larger role, it has been Devonte’ Graham that has led the charge for Charlotte’s offense.

"Their guard play makes this another game that is scary because of guys like Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after Tuesday's practice. "I know it's relatively early, but Devonte' Graham has to be the leader for Most Improved Player. He's playing at a high level and those guys have the green light from the 3-point line."

Graham leads the Hornets in scoring (18.8 points per game) and playmaking (7.8 assists per game), while he attempts over nine 3-pointers per game. In fact, Graham and Rozier combine for 37 points per game and over 16 3-point attempts as the two leading offensive players for Charlotte. Gary Harris’ defense will certainly be needed on Wednesday if Denver hopes to contain the two explosive guards.

Defending the Hornets’ modern offense

Graham and Rozier lead Charlotte’s 21st-ranked offense, which relies on a heavy dose of 3-point attempts and shots around the rim. Charlotte ranks 25th in the frequency of shots attempted from the mid-range, which allows them to take plenty of shots around the rim (sixth in frequency of shots attempted at the rim) and from deep (eighth in 3-point attempt frequency).

Although the Hornets have struggled to convert around the basket (59.8 percent, good for 23rd in the league), they are capable of getting hot from beyond the arc. Charlotte has shot 36.3 percent from deep this season, which ranks 11th in the league. On Monday, the Hornets connected on 18 3-pointers against the Trail Blazers, showcasing their ability to stay in or win games as a result of their 3-point shooting. On an individual level, Graham ranks second in the league in 3-pointers made at 157, while Rozier comes in at 10th with 114 made on the season.

Can Jokić continue his success against Charlotte?

While the Hornets have dealt with major changes in their backcourt, their frontcourt is still made up of the same crop of big men in Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez (brother of Denver’s Juancho!).

This should be music to Nikola Jokić’s ears, as he averaged 27.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and six assists per game against Charlotte last season. Jokić has produced at MVP levels throughout the past month, especially in January as the Serbian big man has averaged 25.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game on 55.2 percent shooting from the field, including 48.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Hornets have a tall task in order if they hope to slow down Jokić on Wednesday.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Jerami Grant, Nikola Jokić

Wednesday’s game will tip at 7 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude (Radio: 92.5FM).

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