Denver Nuggets 100, Charlotte Hornets 86: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The short-handed Denver Nuggets asserted themselves with a dominant well-rounded performance to comfortably put away the visiting Charlotte Hornets in a 100-86 rout. 

Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 19 points while the Hornets were paced by Terry Rozier, who had 20 points. 

With Denver missing two starters in Paul Millsap and Gary Harris, the team’s bench got it going early, putting up 13 points in the opening 12 minutes. Michael Porter Jr. had a hot hand in the first quarter, connecting on three of his first four shots to score six points. 

Porter Jr.’s sizzling stretch continued into the second quarter, where the rookie would add another 11 points in a seven-minute span that pushed Denver’s lead to nine. When Porter Jr. and the reserves came out, the starting unit picked up where the bench left off.  Will Barton III helped the Nuggets increase their lead to 57-42, hitting two three-point buckets and scoring eight points in the quarter. 

Although the Nuggets played one of their more dominating first halves of the season, Jamal Murray suffered a left ankle injury. The Nuggets’ lead guard couldn’t get up on his own power and had to be carried into the team’s locker room prior to halftime. Murray was ruled out for the rest of the contest. 

READ MORE: How video games connect Nuggets’ locker room

Charlotte would fight back in the second half, outscoring the Nuggets by 10 in third quarter. Rozier sparked the team’s rally, hitting his three attempts from downtown and scoring 11 points. The Hornets would cut their deficit to just five points, heading into the fourth quarter. 

In the final 12 minutes, the Nuggets reasserted themselves thanks to an unlikely hero.

With Murray out, PJ Dozier got some rare playing time and proved why he can be an effective player. The 23-year-old was impactful on both sides of the floor and chipped in 10 points and three rebounds in fourth quarter. Denver would take a 13-point lead after Dozier’s assist to Mason Plumlee on a dunk. The team wouldn’t look back after the moment, holding on to win. 

The Nuggets now travel to the Bay Area to face the Golden State Warriors in a nationally-televised matchup Thursday. It is their first visit to Warriors’ brand-new Chase Center arena. 

Here are the takeaways 

Porter Jr. dominant

The Nuggets have gotten into trouble when they’ve played up to the level of their opposition against sub .500 teams. On Wednesday, Porter Jr. provided a much-needed jolt of energy, scoring 17 of his 19 points in his first 13 minutes of action. During that stretch, the Hornets couldn’t find any answers for the Nuggets’ rookie, who was effective both inside and from downtown. 

"Definitely fun, I got hot for a second," Porter Jr. said in explaining his first half performance. "It's been good to get some touches for sure." 

Porter Jr. would cool down in the second half, adding another two points, but his performance continues to show several positive developments. Earlier in the season, Porter Jr. would need extended minutes to get going. He averages 15.8 points on an impressive 84.2 true shooting percentage when he plays 20 minutes or more, but that percentage goes down (49.8) when he averages 10 to 19 minutes. In his past two games, he’s been almost microwave-like – scoring in an effective, efficient manner. Against L.A., Porter poured in 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 19 minutes. Against the Hornets, Porter Jr. was 7 of 13 from the floor. 

Denver’s reserves set the tone

Porter Jr. wasn’t the only bench player to be productive in the contest. The Nuggets bench outscored the Hornets’ second unit by a whopping 52-13 margin. Dozier and Mason Plumlee were pivotal in the unit’s dominance, combining for 27 points. 

Dozier’s performance stood out as it was the first time he recorded any stat for the Nuggets. It proves that his time in the G League, where he averaged almost a triple-double at 21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists, was well spent. 

"He's destroying the G League," Malone said. "I don't know what else PJ Dozier can do in the G League. He goes down there and puts up big numbers every night...I was not surprised by anything he did tonight." 

Defense shuts down Charlotte

Charlotte had a strong start, hitting 52.6 percent from two and converting at 42.9 from downtown in the first quarter. Denver’s defense would adjust in the second quarter and it was one of the deciding factors of the contest. The Nuggets held the Hornets to just 7-of-24 shooting in the second quarter. 

"I think the defense overall was pretty good," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "It's the first time in a while we held an opponent under 100 [points], which was fairly regular earlier in the season. So to see us follow up our defensive performance from the Clippers tonight was great to see." 

The Nuggets’ defense has been under a microscope due to a dramatic dip in defensive rating, going from first in November (101.9) to 12th (107.1) currently. There have been some signs of progress for Malone’s team though. In the second half against the Clippers Sunday, Denver held Los Angeles to 40.9 percent shooting and limited the visitors to just 52 points. The trend continued against Charlotte thanks to another impressive performance by Jerami Grant. 

The 25-year-old entered Wednesday’s game averaging 1.7 blocks in his past three games, and he remained effective in protecting the rim against the Hornets. With 7:15 remaining in the third quarter, Cody Zeller went in for what appeared to be a straight-forward slam but was denied point-blank by Grant. It was a moment that was similar to his swat on Kawhi Leonard three nights ago. The forward finished with two of the Nuggets’ seven blocks on the night. The team also stole the ball eight times. 

Denver held Devonte’ Graham, the NBA’s leading candidate for Most Improved Player according to Malone, to 14 points on 36.9 percent shooting. 

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