The Denver Nuggets, after a subpar first half, defeated the Charlotte Hornets 102-95 on the second night of a back-to-back.

LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier were already out for the Hornets, and rookie Brandon Miller sustained an ankle injury in the first half that prevented him from playing. The Nuggets didn’t waste the opportunity, zeroing in on Miles Bridges and Gordon Hayward throughout the contest and limiting the undermanned Hornets to just 35 second half points.

After a strong win vs the Brooklyn Nets on the road on Friday, the Nuggets had a lethargic start to Saturday’s game in Charlotte, incurring a 12-2 deficit almost immediately. Denver’s effort waxed and waned throughout the contest, and as a result, the Nuggets lost three of the four quarters in the first, second, and fourth.

But great teams play great basketball in the third quarter, and the Nuggets won the game on the strength of their third quarter effort. Denver began the quarter on a 15-0 run that turned into a 25-1 run before the Hornets finally began to stabilize. Denver’s defense was incredible throughout the quarter, and the Nuggets ultimately outscored the Hornets 30-9, allowing very few baskets along the way.

Denver lost the other three quarters by a combined score of 86-72, but it didn’t ultimately matter. The Nuggets did enough to win their seventh game out of eight, finishing off a perfect road trip.

Nikola Jokic had 18 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in his 36 minutes. Denver’s superstar center was central to Denver’s improved third quarter effort, as Jokic’s personal defensive resistance turned up several notches to wall off the paint consistently. Early on, Jokic struggled to control the paint and appeared more than content to wait until the second half to offer up his best defense, and when the score got a little close at the end, Jokic calmly scored on multiple possessions to settle down the Nuggets clutch offense.

Jamal Murray had 20 points of his own and added an impressive 12 rebounds, working hard on the glass while not facing a particularly challenging defensive matchup. That was until Nick Smith of the Hornets decided to make five fourth quarter threes to make the game a contest again. Murray will take the blame of r some of those makes, but the vast majority of Murray’s defense was very good, walling off the paint on drives from Miles Bridges and PJ Washington when switched out onto the bigger forwards.

Murray added five assists and three steals to go with the his 20 points and 12 rebounds, an abnormal stat line for him but an impressive one nonetheless.

Michael Porter Jr. tied for the game-high of 22 points with Bridges, but while Bridges shot 8-of-23 and looked like a chucker, Porter was far more composed and efficient. The Nuggets went to Porter in the first and third quarters fairly consistently, and Porter obliged by shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 5-of-8 from three-point range. Porter’s defense was also fairly good, adding three stocks to his line.

 Porter was a +16 in this game but only played 30 minutes. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone continues to use Peyton Watson and Christian Braun as defensive substitutes in those minutes, but it seems clear that Porter should be playing more minutes than he often does.

Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope weren’t as good offensively in their minutes, but they impacted the game defensively in a big way. Gordon was the main driver behind Bridges’ rough shooting night, even blocking a stepback jumper in crunch time. Caldwell-Pope used his hands to make several plays in passing lanes and on drives. Caldwell-Pope finished the game with two steals and four blocks, the vast majority of those being the swipe-down blocks when an opponent tries to shoot within in Caldwell-Pope’s area. It’s an impressive defensive skill, and it helped win the Nuggets the game.

Finally, the Nuggets bench was pedestrian once again. It should come as no surprise that the bench is worse on the road than at home, especially with the amount of youth on the floor; however, Reggie Jackson is going through a bit of a slump. After shooting 3-of-7 and 4-of-13 from the field in the first two games on the road, Jackson shot 1-of-9 and 0-of-3 from three-point range tonight. The veteran point guard had four assists and a steal, but it’s clear that the bench goes as Jackson goes. He’s the primary decision maker, and when he’s running on overdrive, the rest of the bench feeds off of his success.

Christian Braun had 11 points and seven rebounds, a solid performance for him that included multiple three-pointers. He will have to continue adding to his offensive repertoire off the dribble though, as there was another near charge call on him driving hard to the rim. Julian Strawther also added 10 points of his own. Peyton Watson, after remaining very involved in the previous five games, only attempted two shots tonight and had two turnovers in 17 minutes.

It was a good win for the Nuggets. They finish up a perfect three-game road trip and are now 10-8 on the road, 21-10 overall. Any win on a back-to-back is good, and the Nuggets are now 6-1 on second nights of a back-to-back, which shows some impressive effort and discipline.

Now, they travel home and will face the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. Here’s hoping the Nuggets send Nuggets fans home with the gift of a win, rather than Stephen Curry sending them home with some coal.

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