Despite a late surge in the fourth, the Charlotte Hornets (33-36) were outclassed by the Denver Nuggets (45-24), 117-112 at Spectrum Center. Both teams aim to gain resurgence after past defeats from either side. As both teams experience injury issues on their star players (Jamal Murray and Gordon Hayward), we expect that this game is a grind-it-out kind of match. They play again in the next few days, which are pretty pivotal on the eventual playoff picture.
The Nuggets started the quarter hot from the field. Michael Porter Jr’s nine straight points brought the Nuggets up 33-13 with 3:34 left in the first. However, the Hornets rallied with Jalen McDaniels‘ 8 points that pushed the Hornets to end the quarter 38-26.
As the dust settled, the Hornets had some firepower from their bench. With Nikola Jokic sitting, the Hornets took advantage without their best player. Cody Zeller and returning guard Devontae Graham contributed in both ends that sparked a run. At the 5:22 mark in the second, a Graham three brought the Hornets from 21 down into 2, 51-47. However, their gas ran too much as the Nuggets picked up their play, led by Jokic’s veteran play causing foul trouble to our big men. As the half ended, a Nuggets turnover quickly turned into three free throws by Rozier, bringing 63-60 at halftime.
Story of the Match
The atmosphere from this game resembles somewhat a playoff matchup. Both teams seek to get this win to gain a comfortable advantage with the postseason. Starting off the half, the Hornets struggled offensively with three missed shots to start the quarter. On the other hand, the Nuggets did not faze back as they caused many turnovers for the Hornets and converted in easy baskets. Rozier’s 13 points in the third clung to the Hornets to be in reach as the Nuggets led 91-86.
The fourth quarter started as a one-sided show for the Nuggets. They went on a 12-4 run led by Porter’s 28 points. At this point, I thought the game was over until Graham went on a single-man run. He scored on 14 straight points to provide some life into this Hornets team, But with turnovers and lapses within the Hornets in the clutch, the Nuggets capitalized on a Facundo Campazzo three to bring the lead up to 5, sealing the game.
Star of the Game
Coming back from a knee injury, Devontae Graham exploded tonight, especially in the fourth. Without his offensive talent, the game should have been a blowout. Graham finished with 31 points, five assists, and four rebounds coming off the bench. He ended up with seven threes, 3 of which were on his run in the fourth. The Hornets have been struggling to find a rhythm from their outside shooting from the past few games. Without a doubt, Graham alleviates a lot on this end. As his shooting provides more spacing, the Hornets play a lot faster and less exhaustive on the floor.
Their three-guard lineup with Ball-Rozier and Graham has been their bread in butter heading into the clutch. It just seemed a little short after this game. A lot of focus has to lead into the defensive end and stopping teams from going on a late run on the fourth. This problem has been the same for the past two games from the Hornets.
My biggest concern is not only a concern I had from this game alone but primarily all season. The Hornets struggle defending the opposing team’s big. It’s been that story that caused a lot of defeats on their side. Jokic had his night tonight with an outstanding 30 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. What is interesting from that star is that he only needed 7 made shots to do so. Sixteen out of his 30 were from foul shots. The three technicals the Hornets had contributed to the amount, but it’s frustrating to see the number of fouls we gave up against him. Both our bigs weren’t able to stop him throughout the match. It’s not that Jokic is just an ordinary big but a potential MVP candidate this season so I should give the Hornets a little bit of slack from that.
To start the game, the Hornets struggled with many turnovers that converted into fast-break points by the Nuggets. But one player among those wasn’t bothered by it, and it was Jalen McDaniels. When the Hornets looked lost, Jalen McDaniels provided the necessary scoring in keeping up against the Nuggets; McDaniels stuff the stat sheet with 15 points and four rebounds in a 78% clip. He doesn’t have that much load compared to Rozier and Ball, but it’s been clear that he’s still productive in doing so.
The Charlotte Hornets try to end their losing streak against the Cippers, May 13 Thursday at 4 pm PST.
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