Who would have thought that the Denver Nuggets would enter a January game with the best record in the Western Conference?
Well, here they are as they entered Saturday’s afternoon game with a 25-11 record looking for their 26th win on the season against a Charlotte Hornets team that is coming off of an embarrassing 38-point loss against the Dallas Mavericks. Denver, on the other hand, is coming off of an impressive win against the Sacramento Kings thanks to Jamal Murray scoring 34 of his 36 points in the second half on an injured ankle.
The Nuggets did not have one of their best games and really did not get it going until the fourth quarter, but they came away from Saturday’s game with a 123-110 win over Charlotte in the Hornets only appearance at the Pepsi Center for the season. With that, I give you the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good – Nuggets soaring at home
The Nuggets are now 16-3 at home and have extended their winning streak to five-straight games after their 123-110 win against Charlotte. Denver is now winners of 10-straight games at home as well as they continue to be one of the league’s best home teams. In the win, there were plenty of interesting plays to go around as the Nuggets came alive in the second half to beat Charlotte.
Jokic was the MVP of the game and heard the chants around the Pepsi Center as the Serbian big man had a solid game. He finished with a stat-stuffing 39 point, six assist and 12 rebound game. To show just how much Jokic was feeling it, he even finished with a dunk. It was the second-straight game doing so. When Jokic is firing, the Nuggets seem to have things going which will be critical as Denver now looks ahead into a tough stretch of games, but it was not without key contributions from the teammates.
Both Gary Harris and Paul Millsap came off of the bench as Malone decided to go with the same starters, but that did not stop both players from having great games.
Harris played well as he came off of the bench for his third-straight game after an 11-game absence and looks back to normal and showing no signs of rust. He finished with 17 points, five assists and six rebounds including this dunk over Miles Bridges.
Float like a Gary, this stings if you're a bee. pic.twitter.com/TnBeDD7195
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 5, 2019
Millsap also looks to be back to his former self as he had a strong game on both ends of the court. He finished with 18 points and six rebounds while staying aggressive offensively. He was very active on the defensive end as he finished with four steals.
It just a matter of time until both Harris and Millsap are back into the starting lineup.
The Bad – Pick and roll defense
For a team that just lost by 38 points on the road, Charlotte came out to Denver and competed for three quarters before Denver found its groove in the fourth quarter. They shot the ball well, ran shooters out of their spots and went inside as they got to the free throw line early and often.
Heading into the game one of the keys to the game was getting back on defense as Charlotte came into the game with 14.3 percent of their offense coming in transition. The Hornets continued that play against Denver specifically in the first half where they shredded the Nuggets in the pick and roll as they headed into the half shooting a blistering 47 percent from the field.
Graham to Biyombo! #Hornets30
— NBA (@NBA) January 5, 2019
Charlotte got into the open court and excelled in the pick and roll which led to Malone calling timeouts to address the issue.
The Nuggets came out of the halfway break defending the pick and roll a bit better according to Malone.
“We talked about it at halftime, the roll is killing us,” Malone said. “We did a pretty good job on Kemba. You have to give him that much attention — he is a hell of a player, he is an All-Star — but Biyombo really hurt us. In the first half he gave us 16 points off the roll and 10 boards to Biyombo so the emphasis at the halftime was we have to be in it. We have to be taking care of the roller and build our defense out to the three-point line.”
The Nuggets defended it better in the second half and the defensive adjustment was the difference in Denver winning the game.
The Ugly – Containing Big Scorers
The Nuggets defense has been struggling as of late to get things going and do not look to have any answers moving forward on how to change that. There were adjustments made into stopping Charlotte from excelling in the pick and roll, but Denver still gave up 110 points and allowed a struggling Hornets team to shoot 47 percent from the field. What is even more concerning is that Denver has been allowing a player on the opposite team find a groove and put up big numbers. Last game Denver allowed Kings shooting guards Buddy Hield to put up 29 points on an efficient 12-19 from the field. Denver limited Kemba Walker as he finished with 20 points on Saturday, but it took him 17 shots to get there.
Where Denver struggled was inside.
As great defense as the Nuggets played against Kemba, they let Bismack Biyombo whatever it is that he wanted. Biyombo has not been a player that teams have had to game plan for but the Nuggets let him also get loose as he finished with his first double-double of the season. On the night, he had 16 points and 12 rebounds. He also had two steals and two blocks which topped off a great individual game for him.
Denver won both of games against the Kings and the Hornets, but there could not be a worst time than now for defensive lapses to happen when taking a look at the big scorer on the schedule next game. Denver now goes on the road to go up against the Houston Rockets, who as we know, has early MVP favorite in James Harden who has been on a tear with big man Clint Capela as well.
Denver will have to review these past few games and get back to being a defensive team that limits big time scorers from getting into a rhythm. It is not expected for Denver to completely stop Harden — nobody can — but limiting the others from getting big numbers as well and disrupting the defense has to be in the game plan.