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Game Preview: Nuggets Want to Avoid Letdown After Golden State Win
It wasn’t very long into the post-game press conference of one of the biggest wins of the Nuggets’ season – Saturday’s victory over Golden State – that coach Michael Malone was looking to the next game, Monday night against Charlotte.
“I am proud of our guys, but again, in this league, you can’t come up for air,” Malone said. “You can’t take a break, you can’t relax. You have to stay at it and keep doing what we are doing no matter who we play.”
The reference was clear. Don’t let down just because the opponent doesn’t have a winning record. There were games most certainly floating through Malone’s mind that stuck out as examples of contests he felt his team should have won against competition with worse records. The Hornets, entering the game with a 22-29 record, are the latest under .500 squad to visit the Pepsi Center.
But though there are some flashpoint losses, the Nuggets have, by-and-large, been good against under .500 teams this season, going 18-9 in those games. They’ve won four of their last five games against teams with losing records.
Yet, the Hornets also arrive in Denver with wins in seven of their last 11 games, including three straight victories punctuated by a win at Phoenix on Sunday. This, then, is the second of a back-to-back for the Hornets. It is the second consecutive game the Nuggets will face an opponent that has played the day before.
The first meeting between the Nuggets and Hornets came way back in October in Charlotte. The Hornets won that game, 110-93, and it basically came down to one quarter. The Hornets outscored the Nuggets 35-16 in the second quarter, and that was the difference. Otherwise, the Nuggets outscored the Hornets in the other three quarters, 77-75.
But there are aspects of that game the Nuggets want to correct. Dwight Howard was huge for the Hornets, scoring 15 points with 20 rebounds and two blocks. Reducing his effectiveness and keeping him off the glass will be key. Howard has been close to his old self of late and is coming off of a huge game at Phoenix – 18 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three steals.
Keeping ball handlers out of the lane is another key. Whether it was Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky or others, the Hornets ability to draw multiple defenders and kick out to shooters was a large part of their offense against the Nuggets on Oct. 25. And now, the Nuggets must figure out a way to slow down Nicolas Batum, who did not play in the first meeting due to injury. Batum has played high level basketball of late as well.
This is the last of a three-game home stand before back-to-back road games at the end of the week.
INJURY REPORT: Paul Millsap (wrist) and Mason Plumlee (calf) are out of the contest.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter