Denver Nuggets 117, Charlotte Hornets 112: Three takeaways
The Nuggets got some reinforcements and bounced back to winning ways with a 117-112 victory over the Hornets in Charlotte.
Denver saw the long-awaited return of Monte Morris, who had been sidelined with a hamstring injury for 12 games. Aaron Gordon also got back in the fold after he missed the Nuggets’ last game against Brooklyn. The two men would provide a much-needed boost for the still injury-depleted Nuggets, who are missing Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, and PJ Dozier.
Nikola Jokić and Michael Porter Jr.’s chemistry continues to grow exponentially over the past month as the pair combined for 60 points to lead the Nuggets in the win. Devonte' Graham exploded for 19 points in the fourth quarter and finished the night with 31 points and five assists.
Michael Malone won’t be happy with seeing a 21-point lead evaporate in the second quarter, but this win is significant for several reasons. The Nuggets have ensured they will have homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Considering how competitive the West has been this season, any and every advantage is crucial. Secondly, the team has secured its best road winning percentage (60.6) in franchise history – according to Altitude. That’s with three road games remaining.
The Nuggets will now turn their attention to a Thursday night (6 p.m., ALTITUDE 2) matchup against their Northwest Division rivals, the Timberwolves.
Here are the takeaways:
Gordon, Morris provide lift
The rest appeared to pay off for Gordon, who responded with a strong effort on both ends against the Hornets. The forward finished the night with 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
Gordon did most of his offensive damage in the first three quarters, but he saved arguably his biggest bucket for the final minute of the contest. With 46.1 remaining and the Nuggets up just three, the 25-year-old drove into the lane and initially missed. He would fight for the put-back to push the lead to five. From there, the Nuggets would ice the win in the final seconds.
The Nuggets played it cautious with Morris in his first action in almost a month, limiting him to just first half action. Although there were some signs of rust in his 11 minutes of action, he still managed to put five points and two assists. Morris is one of the most efficient point guards in the NBA and is one of the key leaders in the locker room. The last three games will allow him to work his way into game shape.
Dynamic Duo rises to the occasion
In what was arguably the most important regular season game left on the schedule, Jokić and Porter Jr. once again had strong outings.
Porter Jr. tied game-high in plus/minus with Charlotte’s Graham at +23 and put up 30 points, six boards, and grabbed two steals. The second-year forward also shot a precise 12 of 18 against the Hornets. Porter Jr. did most of his damage in the first half, posting a new career-high for a half with 23. Charlotte had no answers for him when it came to three-point shooting in the opening 24 minutes as he went off for 5 of 7 during that stretch.
Porter Jr. would cool in the second half but still managed to make an important three down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Jokić continued to make his case for the clear favorite as he had another strong all-around game, finishing with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. More impressively, he set a career-high in free-throw attempts with 17. With the center facing more double-teams towards the end of the season, his aggression into getting to the line has greatly improved over the last few games. In his last five outings before Tuesday, Jokić was averaging 9.2 attempts per contest. That’s a sizable jump from his career average of 3.9 trips per game.
Facu and JaMychal provide fourth quarter punch
With Porter Jr. and Jokić being held relatively quiet in the final 12 minutes, combining for nine in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets saw out their win thanks to the efforts of Facundo Campazzo and JaMychal Green.
Campazzo, who had shot 0 of 5 with zero points in the first three quarters, would hit two vital threes and drop eight points overall in the fourth quarter. Green made key plays on both ends and added another six. The veteran forward would respond from a below-average performance against the Nets with a 11-point night on 3 of 5 shooting.