The Denver Nuggets, winners of four-straight games, headed into their matinee matchup with the Charlotte Hornets looking to win their 26th game of the year. As it has been for the two prior games, Denver elected to stick with both Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig in the starting lineup as they slowly bring both Gary Harris and Paul Millsap back from their injuries.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Denver had grabbed their fifth-straight win — their 26th on the year — by a score of 123-110. Harris and Millsap were huge off of the bench while Nikola Jokic had one of his most aggressive games to date.
The first quarter began with the Nuggets and Hornets each trading buckets. Unfortunately, Denver’s defense remained more of an aberration than anything real as it has for the month of December. Denver was getting sliced to pieces in the pick and roll as Devonte Graham and Kemba Walker were able to create whatever offensive look they wanted.
While Denver’s defense struggled, Nikola Jokic was going out of his way to attack whoever is in front of him. In the first eight minutes of the game, Jokic had already taken nine shots and three 3-pointers. By the time the first quarter had come to a close, Jokic had already scored nine points, gobbled up five rebounds (four of them on the offensive glass), and added in an assist and a steal for good measure.
Denver’s bench unit was able to settle down their defense for the last four or so minutes of the quarter as they helped Denver carry a 31-26 lead into the second quarter of play. Over the final 4:23 of play, Denver only allowed the Hornets to score a single field goal attempt as they went on a quick 9-4 mini-run before the first 12 minutes of the game came to an end.
As quickly as Denver’s defense returned, it dissipated just as fast. To begin the second quarter, the Nuggets allowed the Hornets to go on a 6-2 run which resulted in Michael Malone calling a quick timeout. That is when Gary Harris, in his second game back, decided to take over.
In the second quarter alone, Harris accumulated seven points, three rebounds, and two assists while shooting 3-of-5 shots. He looked as if all of the rust he had after getting hurt was gone seemingly in an instant.
Once the Nuggets starting unit came back is when Denver began to struggle on defense. Denver, who led by as many as seven points in the second quarter, allowed Charlotte to close within just two points as Denver carried a 58-56 edge into the second half.
The third quarter did not begin well for Denver. In the first seven minutes, Denver lost their lead and suddenly found themselves searching for some energy to propel them to a win. They were settling far too often for bad jump shots on offense which allowed the Hornets to get out in transition leading to easy points for Charlotte.
Then, just as he did in the first half, Harris came in off the bench and began to slowly drag Denver back into the game. He immediately inserted energy into the game and helped Denver open up a 89-84 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was the stimulated by the Nuggets reinforcements. Both Millsap and Harris were huge to begin the final 12 minutes of regulation as they help Denver extend their lead to 12 points with eight minutes remaining in the game. The return of both Harris and Millsap has been huge for Denver in their past three games.
For the rest of the game, Denver continued to extend their lead behind their altruistic style of play. Paul Millsap was attacking the paint, Jokic was scoring in all kinds of ways, Beasley was hitting jumpers, and the Nuggets finally locked in on defense. Once the final buzzer sounded, Denver managed to win yet again by a score of 123-110.
By the time the game had ended, Jokic led the Nuggets with a line of 39 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists on 16-of-29 shooting from the field. Off the bench, Harris was huge for Denver as he racked up 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists in 27 minutes. Millsap also chipped in 18 points, six rebounds, three assists.
Next, the Nuggets will travel south to take on the Rockets in Houston on Monday night. That game will tip off at 6pm MST as Denver will look to finally get the better of the Rockets, who have eviscerated Denver more often than not in the past few years.