The Nuggets blew a 19-point lead on Thursday night in a demoralizing 115-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led all players with 29 points and 21 rebounds. But Denver sputtered in the fourth quarter — managing just 13 points — as Charlotte stormed back with 38 to win.
The Nuggets, now below .500 (15-16) this season, get a holiday break before traveling to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
“It’s kind of easy to see what happened. The ball stopped moving,” coach Michael Malone said of the fourth quarter. “It became iso-centric, over-dribbling and everybody trying to get theirs. That led to poor offensive possessions which fueled their break. … A complete lack of offense and defense.”
On Thursday, the Hornets trailed by 19 before their fourth-quarter push — taking the lead, 110-107, with 1 minute left in the game. The Nuggets struggled to get Jokic involved late as his offensive efficiency struggled (13-of-34 shooting).
“They did a great job of guarding (Jokic),” reserve guard Facu Campazzo said. “I’ve got to be more active and be more aggressive. But it all starts on defense.”
Jokic still recorded a double-double by halftime (12 points and 16 rebounds) for a 65-52 advantage at the break. Denver closed the second quarter on an impressive 25-9 run. But the Nuggets were slow to start in the first quarter — falling behind by 11 points — until Austin Rivers came off the bench with a trio of three-pointers to assume the lead.
“It’s no surprise in that second quarter that we had 11 assists and only two turnovers,” Malone said. “The ball was flying and guys were playing the right way. … We just did not sustain that.”
Small forward Aaron Gordon was ruled out before the game as a late scratch with left hamstring soreness. It opened the door for reserve Vlatko Cancar to make his first start of the season (second of his NBA career). Cancar totaled 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor.
“Vlatko did a lot of good things out there,” Malone said.
Former Nuggets center Mason Plumlee (2016-20) started for the Hornets. He finished with three points and six rebounds.