CHARLOTTE – The first question coming into Friday night at Charlotte was: What kind of Nuggets team was going to take the court? They quickly dispelled any notion that they weren’t there to win a basketball game.
Second: Could the Nuggets win?
That answer was eventually, no. The Nuggets 122-114 loss to Charlotte on Friday night wasn’t for a lack of effort. They had plenty of that. But free throws kept the Hornets in it early, and 3-pointers put them over the top late. That combination dropped the Nuggets to their third straight loss and two full games behind Portland for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Hornets, clinging to fading playoff hopes of their own, scored 76 points combined from the free throw and 3-point lines. Turnovers didn’t turn out to be a huge number, but they came at inopportune moments and Charlotte was good at converting them into points of their own.
The Hornets got hot in the fourth quarter. They scored 36 points, made 54.5 percent of their shots, nailed 7-of-12 3-pointers and used all of that to pull away. Frank Kaminsky was in the middle of it all, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the fourth and did not miss any of his four shots in the quarter in doing so – three of them were 3-pointers.
And that spoiled a splendid night out of Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets starters, who were great all night long. Jokic finished with his sixth triple double: 26 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Every starter scored in double figures and they accounted for 95 points.
But, in the end, it was not enough.
The Flow: Gary Harris started in a much better space in his second time around against the Hornets, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting. He was part of a Nuggets team that came out with good energy and good defense. They held the Hornets to just 38.1 percent in the first quarter, but didn’t get the full reward for their efforts until right at the end of the period when they hit Charlotte with an 8-0 run to take a 32-24 advantage going into the second quarter.
The Nuggets jumped on Charlotte early in the second quarter and grinded out an eight-point lead with six minutes to play. That’s when the Hornets picked things up and went on a 12-1 run to take a 50-47 lead. Harris, however, scored a bucket and was fouled – he made the free throw – to pull the Nuggets back even. After the two teams traded jabs, the Hornets had a three-point lead as time was running out. But Nikola Jokić nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at 56. Jokic had 10 points, seven rebound and four assists at the half.
The Nuggets kept the pedal to the metal in the third quarter and built a lead that reached 12 points. Nikola Jokić was huge, pulling within one assist of a triple-double. The Nuggets gave some of that lead back by the end of the third, but still took an eight-point advantage (94-86) into the fourth. But they’d have to play the entire fourth without Jameer Nelson, who left the game with a right calf strain and did not return.
Things fell apart quickly at the start of the fourth. Charlotte went on a 12-0 run right away to take a 98-84 lead. Turnovers were a big problem. The Hornets turned three quick Nuggets’ miscues into six points, and that fueled their rally to take the lead. But the Nuggets took the hit and settled back down. When Danilo Gallinari hit a 3-pointer with 6:56 left, the game was tied at 101. From there, the Hornets carved out a little more space and were able to hold on for the victory.
What It Means: The loss at Charlotte means the Nuggets are now two full games behind the Trail Blazers with seven games left to play. Portland’s magic number is now 5.
Nuggets Standouts: Nikola Jokić led a Nuggets starting five that all scored in double figures. He had 23 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Gary Harris had 20 points. Danilo Gallinari finished with 19 points. Kenneth Faried had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds. And Jameer Nelson scored 12 points with nine assists before he left with a calf injury.
Stat Of The Game: 17. The Hornets outscored Denver by 17 points from the free throw line.
Next: The Nuggets travel to Miami for a Sunday matchup against the Heat.