Preview: Denver Nuggets open road trip against Charlotte Hornets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Injuries and a tough slate of games caught up to the Denver Nuggets over the weekend, culminating in back-to-back losses to some of the NBA’s elite.

After a Friday night loss to the Utah Jazz, Denver fell to the Brooklyn Nets Saturday night in the final regular-season game at Ball Arena for the 2020-21 season. Despite 29 points from Nikola Jokić and 28 points from Michael Porter Jr., Denver didn’t have quite enough against Brooklyn’s high-powered offense, resulting in a 125-119 defeat.

MORE: Takeaways from loss to Nets

Denver (44-24) now heads on the road for the final four games of the season, beginning in Charlotte Tuesday.

The Hornets (33-35) have been one of the more surprising teams this season, withstanding a plethora of injuries to remain firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Despite their success, Charlotte has outperformed their negative 2.1 net rating by a lot this season, which is reflected in their rankings on both ends of the floor (21st offensive rating and 20th in defensive rating).

Denver dominated the first meeting between the two teams, winning 129-104 back on March 17.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

AARON GORDON – RIGHT CALF CONTUSION.PROBABLE.

MONTE MORRIS – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. QUESTIONABLE.

WILL BARTON III – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

P.J. DOZIER – RIGHT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 5 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Facundo Campazzo vs. LaMelo Ball

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone may opt to put a larger defender on Ball, who has impressed throughout his rookie season. At 6’6”, Ball would present a difficult matchup for the 5’10” Campazzo, but the Argentinian guard has showcased an ability to disrupt opposing guards and pick off passes regularly.

Ball was the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year before suffering a wrist injury that kept him out of action for over a month. On the season, the 19-year-old is averaging 16 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game, all while knocking down 36 percent of his 3-point attempts and adding 1.6 steals per game on the other end of the floor.
Although his shot hasn’t been falling as of late (39.5 percent from the field), Campazzo has produced in his starting role, averaging 10.8 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game in his last 10 contests.

Slowing down Ball is key to limiting Charlotte’s offense, and Campazzo will likely be tasked with that initial responsibility.

Win the turnover battle

Turnovers have played a key role for the Hornets on both ends of the floor this season.

On the offensive end, Charlotte has struggled to take care of the ball, ranking 27th in turnover percentage at 15.2 percent (the league average is 14 percent). On the other end of the floor, the Hornets’ ability to generate turnovers at a high rate has been a key factor in their 20th ranked defense (along with avoiding fouls). Charlotte ranks fifth in opponent turnover percentage, forcing a mistake from opponents on 14.8 percent of possessions.

This is an area where Denver can take advantage but must also be careful. On the season the Nuggets have ranked around league average on both sides of the ball when it comes to turnovers (15th in turnover percentage on offense, 12th in opponent turnover percentage on defense).

If the Nuggets can continue to value each possession, they should have plenty of opportunities to capitalize on Charlotte’s mistakes on the other end of the floor, which can generate some easy scoring opportunities.

However, if Denver is sloppy with the ball, the Hornets will certainly take advantage. 67.8 percent of Charlotte’s steals this season have led to a transition play, where the Hornets have been deadly, leading the league in points added per 100 possessions on transition plays coming off a steal.

The battle beyond the arc

If you’re a fan of 3-pointers, Tuesday’s contest is just for you.

Under head coach James Borrego, Charlotte’s offense is built around a modern shot distribution that focuses on getting to the rim and firing from deep. The Hornets are one of two teams to rank in the top 10 of the frequency of shot attempts coming from the rim and the 3-point line this season.

While Charlotte has struggled to finish around the rim, the shots have certainly been falling from deep. The Hornets rank eighth in 3-point percentage this season, knocking down 38.2 percent from downtown on the year (in non-garbage time minutes).

Speaking of elite 3-point shooting, the team just ahead of Charlotte is the Nuggets, who have hit 38.5 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc on the season, on slightly fewer attempts per game (34.2 compared to Charlotte’s 36.8).

Although Denver’s offense isn’t built around a heavy emphasis on 3-point attempts, if the Nuggets get going from deep against Charlotte, it will go a long way in ending the losing streak.

Statistics as of May 9.

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