Good, bad and ugly: Nuggets squeak by Hornets on last-second shot

Mar 5, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) hits the go ahead basket late in the fourth quarter against Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (11) at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Denver went into Thursday night’s game fresh off a 116-100 loss to the Golden State Warriors that helped the Warriors pick up only their 14th win of the season.

The Nuggets headed on the road to get back on the right track against the plunging Charlotte Hornets, and while wins have not been aplenty, Charlotte was still able to give Denver all that they could handle.

The Nuggets did not play to the best of their abilities but were able to pick up a 114-112 win with a step-back shot in the closing seconds, and with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good – Nuggets win an ugly one

It has been challenging to find many bright spots for the Nuggets in the past two games as the Nuggets face-planted in the second half against the Warriors earlier in the week and barely got by Charlotte on Thursday. Still, it was a win that the Nuggets desperately needed.

The Nuggets have not looked like a title contender this season with their recent play, and Denver could not afford to take another loss to a sub .500 team, especially considering the upcoming schedule.

Denver heads to Cleveland to close out a two-game road trip and then are home against the Bucks, Mavericks, Spurs, Lakers, and Clippers.

Each win matters as even a small losing streak in the West can drop a team down a few spots, and Denver found a way to close the Hornets out to avoid a letdown.

After a poor three quarters for the Nuggets, they buckled down in the fourth quarter and capitalized down the final stretch.

Denver went on a 23-6 run to close out the game as they were assertive and aware.

Nikola Jokic had a mediocre game but was dominant down the final stretch, finishing with eight points in the fourth quarter. He also snagged a crucial rebound and provided the final assist to win the game.

Despite an off night shooting, Jamal Murray stepped up when the Nuggets needed him most, scoring seven points in the final quarter including the game-winning basket.

 

The Nuggets did just enough to win the game, but will have to dig deep as they get closer to the playoffs. Finding ways to close teams out early and not relying on last-second shots will be critical to making a deep playoff push.

Bad – Another slow start defensively

With the way that the Nuggets played in the second half of Tuesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, it was expected that a road game against Charlotte was a bounce-back spot for Denver.

The defense which was needed did not happen.

While Denver scored the basketball well early on against Charlotte, the Nuggets struggled on the defensive end as the Hornets went into the second frame with a 34-31 lead.

Charlotte shot 5-8 from deep in the opening quarter and got every open look that they wanted as the Hornets finished 13-19 from the field in the first quarter.

The Hornets shot 68% from the field after the first quarter and scored on six straight possessions to finish off the frame, including a Devonte Graham floater at the buzzer.

The Nuggets starters could not find a rhythm, and their bench unit was also unimpressive.

Denver continues to open games slowly, and other teams are gathering momentum from the start, which is causing the Nuggets to have to fight back in games in the second quarter or head into the second half with a whole.

Solid defensive starts are an area in which head coach Michael Malone has been harping about all season long but Denver has been unable to make it happen and it has allowed teams to stick around for far too long.

Ugly – Michael Porter Jr. sits

One of most asked about questions all season long regarding the Nuggets has been about Michael Porter Jr. and his erratic minutes.

Porter Jr. looked as if he were turning a corner earlier in the season as he played consistent minutes and with a couple of injuries to his teammates had made a couple of starts and played well.

Denver even got rid of two young players, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, who were cutting into Porter Jr.’s minutes with the presumed idea that it would surely place the 2018 No. 14 pick into the 9-man rotation.

Since the trade, however, Porter Jr. has surpassed the 20-minute mark only once leaving fans, media members, and the national audience wondering why.

Porter Jr’s defense cannot be the only reason as the Nuggets have suddenly dropped to a bottom-5 defense post-All-Star and have given up sizable leads to let teams back in the game.

The offense also cannot be the problem because, despite a few mistakes here and there, he has shown promising upside with the minutes that he has been given.

In Thursday’s game against Charlotte, fans’ frustration grew as the Nuggets rookie was buried on the last chair on the bench.

Malone elected to not play Porter Jr. in the game despite Denver’s defense being nonexistent to begin the game and the offense also sputtering down the final stretch.

Denver luckily pulled out a victory over Charlotte on a last-second heave by Murray on a broken play, or else Malone would surely be on the hot-seat with his decision to continue sitting Porter Jr.

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