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PREVIEW: Denver Nuggets look to start (and finish) strong vs. Charlotte Hornets

Mar 15, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) drives to the basket Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) during the third quarter at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

After the way the Denver Nuggets needed a big fourth quarter to get past a travel-weary Indiana Pacers team two nights earlier, they will need to avoid falling behind a hot Charlotte team Wednesday night if they are going to win for the seventh time in eight games.

The Hornets, winners of four in a row and five of their last six, visit the Nuggets on Wednesday night as they begin a five-game Western Conference road swing.

Charlotte needed a rally of its own to beat Sacramento and extend its winning streak Monday. The Hornets have surged into second place in the Southeast Division with some strong play late in games.

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“I’m extremely proud of this group,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “For some reason, we play our best basketball down the stretch and I guess, if there’s a time to pick your best basketball, it’s the last four or five minutes of the game. This group, they continue to fight.”

Terry Rozier (26 points) and Gordon Hayward (25 points) were the offensive stars against the Kings, but the player getting the most attention has been rookie LaMelo Ball. He was the third pick in the draft last fall and is the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year with his season so far.

Ball is only 19 years old, but he is averaging 15.8 points, 6.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds and has played in all 38 games, starting 18. He got off to a slow start in the first six weeks of the season but averaged 20.1 points a game in February and is averaging 19.0 over five March games.

Denver could have trouble containing him due to a depleted backcourt. Gary Harris, the team’s best perimeter defender, likely will miss his 12th straight game with a left adductor strain and Monte Morris will sit for the third game in a row with a quad injury.

With the injuries, Will Barton has played more as a guard than forward and could prove to be a matchup challenge for the Hornets. He had 20 points in the win over the Pacers and is averaging 21.3 points in the three games since the All-Star break.

Barton said he is trying to be more aggressive from the jump, and it showed Monday night when he scored the first eight points for the Nuggets.

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“Just trying to get us off to a good start, play with energy on both ends, knowing if I come out with that mindset, good things will happen for me and the team,” he said. “I know usually Jok (Nikola Jokic) works his way into the game, and most of the time, teams are not ready to play from the beginning; most of the time anyway. So, I try to just get a head start.”

His recent offense has helped overcome Jamal Murray’s struggles of the last three games. Murray had just three points in a win at Memphis and experienced another poor shooting night against Dallas, scoring 10 points. He had 16 on Monday night.

Denver coach Michael Malone isn’t worried about his guard.

“We know that he’s a complete player,” Malone said of Murray.

–Field Level Media