Preview: Denver Nuggets start a road trip against Charlotte Hornets

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Denver Nuggets
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (44-31) start a brief two-game road trip tonight as they’re heading East to take on the Charlotte Hornets (39-36) as they’re making their push towards the end of the season and jockeying for playoff positioning. Denver currently sits in sixth place just one game back from the Utah Jazz and 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves in seventh. The Hornets are unlikely to catch anyone in front of them, but they’re not giving up on trying.

For Denver, after going on a run out of the All-Star Break, they’ve stumbled a bit over their last 10 games to a 5-5 record, which includes a couple of tough losses after blowing leads to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns. With seven games remaining, this is one of the three that Denver will play against above .500 teams, and they’ll be wanting to build some late-season momentum heading into the playoffs.

For Charlotte, they’re playing great basketball right now. They’re 7-3 in their last 10 games while in position for the franchise’s first playoff berth since the 2015-16 season. If the season ended today, they would play the Cleveland Cavaliers for a chance at the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, and they’re likely looking for any way to avoid playing the Brooklyn Nets in that spot. A win tonight only further helps that cause.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (44-31, 22-16 away) @ Charlotte Hornets (39-36, 20-18 home)

When: 5:00 p.m. MST

Where: Spectrum Center

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Charlotte. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: At The Hive

Expected Starting Lineups:

CHA: PG LaMelo Ball, SG Terry Rozier, SF Miles Bridges, PF P.J. Washington, C Mason Plumlee

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF JaMychal Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Facundo Campazzo (illness), JaMychal Green (wrist), Gordon Hayward (ankle), Zeke Nnaji (knee)

Three Things to Watch

Containing Kelly Oubre Jr.

Since the start of February, Kelly Oubre Jr. has been struggling to shoot consistently, but he’s still a microwave-style scorer that can heat up in a hurry. He has 12 games this season with at least five made 3-pointers, with one of those being the previous matchup with the Nuggets back in December. Denver doesn’t have a ton of wing size and speed off of the bench to stick with Oubre consistently, so it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets guard him when he’s on the floor.

Keep Bones Hyland Involved

Prior to Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bones Hyland had attempted at least eight shots in eight straight games. He went 1-of-3 against OKC, although he did have six free throw attempts on the night, but Hyland can cause problems for teams when he’s on the floor. He can space the floor, but he also knows how to get his teammates involved with his passing. Getting him early looks off of the bench boosts his confidence, and he can really snowball a lot of momentum together once that happens.

Force LaMelo Ball to Settle

After shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range last year, LaMelo Ball is up to 38.2 percent from downtown this season. He’s putting up over seven attempts per game from outside, and he has all the confidence in the world. However, if you can force him to settle for jumpers, that means he’s not penetrating into the defense where he can pass out to open shooters. If he’s settling for outside shots and hitting them, you just have to tip your cap, but you can’t let him drive to the rim all game long.

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