Denver Nuggets: Three keys to the game vs. Hornets

(Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets are currently riding a 4 game win streak, and they will hope to continue it against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately for the Colorado side, the Hornets have already ended a long Nuggets’ winning streak this season. When Denver went to the Spectrum Center in Charlotte riding a 7 game winning streak that included victories over the Raptors, the Thunder, the Trailblazers, and the Lakers, they left with a 6 point loss that may still be impacting the team today.

Right after that game, the Nuggets suffered an embarrassing 8-point loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks in which they scored just 98 points.

Since the loss to the Hornets, they have allowed an average of 108.0 points per game. Before the loss, they had allowed just 103.4 points per game to their opponents.

While the wins haven’t stopped coming, they have been a bit too close for comfort recently and the Nuggets have really had to lean on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray during that time. With the returns of Gary Harris and Paul Millsap, they shouldn’t have to rely too heavily on those players to win games now. Hopefully, the stress that has been put on them will result in some well-deserved rest over the next couple of games, including the next matchup against Charlotte.

Even with the return of several important players, it will be a tough matchup for the team with their worsened defense. Here are three keys to a Nuggets win on Saturday.

(Note: All stats via Basketball-Reference.)

Key #1: Contain Kemba Walker

Despite losing to the Hornets earlier this year, they did a pretty good job of containing Kemba Walker in the matchup.

While Walker did have a game-high 21 points and 8 assists, he managed just 4-11 shooting, including a 2-8 mark from distance. He also had a BPM of -10 and a game-high 5 turnovers. The only real reason Walker was so effective in the December 7th contest was that he was incredibly effective at drawing fouls.

Walker had a free throw attempt rate of 109.1%, taking 12 free throw attempts to 11 field goal attempts. He made all but one of his attempts, which ended up being the decider in the 6 point Nuggets loss. Denver has already proven that they are capable of defending the All-Star point guard, now they just need to prove they are capable of not fouling him excessively.

Key #2: Knock down at least 40% of 3-point attempts

In their last matchup against the Hornets, the Nuggets had the 2nd worst shooting performance from beyond the arc of the season, knocking down just 22.9% of their long-range attempts. The starting lineup alone took 16 3-pointers and made just 1 of them. That will be unacceptable going forward and for this matchup.

This season, when the Nuggets have made at least 40% of their 3-pointers, they are 6-3. As long as they don’t sacrifice open mid-range looks and points in the paint to take more long-range attempts, the team should really focus on nailing the 3 ball, as the Hornets have a record of just 3-8 when their opponent makes at least 40% of their 3-point attempts.

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Key #3: Cut down on the fouls

While the Nuggets haven’t had a huge problem with excessively fouling their opponent this year(20.4 fouls per game, 7th lowest in NBA), they got themselves in foul trouble against the Hornets earlier this year.

They fouled Charlotte 28 times, giving them 38 total trips to the free throw line.

They made 34 of those, meaning 30.1% of their points against Denver came from the charity stripe.

If the Nuggets hope to come out victorious in this matchup, they will have to cut down on fouls, especially on Kemba Walker, as his 12 trips to the line in the last matchup proved crucial to taking down Denver.

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If the Nuggets can do all of the above, they will have a significantly improved chance of taking down the Hornets.