STRONG CHAR­LOTTE BENCH STALLS NUGGETS 113-107

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Singer

CHAR­LOTTE » Kemba Walker squared up from the top of the arc, rose and knocked down a clutch 3-pointer, seal­ing a Nuggets loss that might have big­ger im­pli­ca­tions than just snap­ping their seven-game win­ning streak.

Starter Paul Mill­sap left the game in the third quar­ter of Fri­day’s even­tual 113-107 loss, and team­mate Monte Morris, who with­stood an el­bow from a team­mate him­self, said Mill­sap suf­fered a bro­ken toe.

A Nuggets team of­fi­cial said that the team was still eval­u­at­ing his sta­tus as of Fri­day night.

“They told me he broke his toe when we got back here,” Morris said in the postgame locker room.

Mill­sap suf­fered the right foot in­jury af­ter he went to chal­lenge Michael Kid­dGilchrist in the lane and lost his bal­ance as his foot swung down to­ward the court. He im­me­di­ately came out of the game and didn’t re­turn.

Morris, who cleared the con­cus­sion pro­to­col him­self af­ter tak­ing an el­bow from Trey Lyles, had a gash and a swollen eyelid but came back in the game as the Nuggets tried to cut the deficit in the fourth quar­ter.

The Hor­nets, thanks to 21 points from Walker and 19 from Tony Parker off the bench, took ad­van­tage on a night when Den­ver’s be­lea­guered legs made ev­ery­thing dif­fi­cult. The Nuggets shot just 38 per­cent from the field and dropped to 17-8 on the year.

De­spite the loss, the Nuggets are off to their best start over 25 games since the 2009-10 sea­son. And even though the de­fense wasn’t as sharp as it has been, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t up­set about his team’s ef­fort.

“We gave our­selves a chance on a night where you lose an­other player to an in­jury, you’re hav­ing a hard time mak­ing

shots, at least we com­peted and fought, and that’s some­thing I re­ally liked about our group tonight.”

The Nuggets, down 11 with 2:53 left, charged back and cut it to 106-103 on a 3-pointer from

Morris. But Kidd-Gilchrist stuffed Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez at the rim, and Parker and Walker traded points to stop their three-game los­ing streak.

Walker’s 3-pointer with 6:02 left gave the Hor­nets a 99-86 lead, and the Nuggets, al­ready thin from in­juries to Gary Harris and Will Bar­ton, didn’t have the depth to over­come the deficit.

The Nuggets hacked into the Hor­nets’ 11-point third quar­ter lead, cut­ting it down to just one be­fore giv­ing it right back to close the quar­ter with sloppy of­fen­sive pos­ses­sions. Her­nan­gomez played valu­able min­utes in par­tic­u­lar, of­fer­ing en­ergy on de­fense and hus­tle on the glass. He fin­ished with 15 points and 10 re­bounds for his third ca­reer dou­ble-dou­ble.

Malone was right­fully con­cerned about Walker, whose deft drib­ble and dan­ger­ous out­side shot made him a dark­horse MVP can­di­date ear­lier this year. But the Nuggets have had suc­cess de­fen­sively with some of the league’s best guards, no­tably Port­land’s Damian Lillard, Ok­la­homa City’s Rus­sell West­brook and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.

“You have to be ag­gres­sive, you have to give them dif­fer­ent looks, and some­times you gotta be a lit­tle bit lucky,” Malone said. “I think all those things will come into tonight. … And not be­ing afraid to mix up our cov­er­age through­out the game just to give him dif­fer­ent looks be­cause if you give a great player the same look for 48, they’re go­ing to get into a rhythm and they’re go­ing top­ick­y­oua­part.”

Walker came in av­er­ag­ing 26 points per game but was largely held in check by a com­bi­na­tion of Tor­rey Craig and Ma­lik Beasley be­fore his fourth quar­ter spurt.

Hor­nets coach James Bor­rego was an as­sis­tant with Malone in New Or­leans dur­ing the 2010-11 sea­son and said the two had ex­ten­sive con­ver­sa­tions about de­fen­sive philoso­phies.

“They’re well-coached, dis­ci­plined, they have an iden­tity,” Bor­rego said of the Nuggets. “Their de­fense has re­ally picked up this year. We’ve al­ways spent a lot of time (dis­cussing) the de­fen­sive end, so I know that de­fense was driv­ing him crazy prob­a­bly the last cou­ple years. They’ve been to­gether now a cou­ple years now, they’ve set­tled into their de­fen­sive cov­er­age, their scheme, they’ve found some­thing they like, they’re play­ing much more spir­ited on that end of the floor.”

In gen­eral, the praise for the Nuggets’ de­fen­sive ef­fort this sea­son has been war­ranted. They en­tered Fri­day with the NBA’s fifth-ranked de­fense, an about face af­ter fin­ish­ing last sea­son 23rd.

But the de­fense, which showed cracks in Wed­nes­day’s game in Or­lando, didn’t put up much of a fight in the first half. The Hor­nets knocked down 8-of-17 3-point­ers to build a 64-53 lead af­ter two quar­ters. Char­lotte’s bench, led by Tony Parker’s 13, outscored Den­ver’s 38-24 and ex­posed the Nuggets’ thin­ning depth.

Just as on Wed­nes­day, the Nuggets’ close­outs lacked en­ergy, and their 3-point­ers weren’t fall­ing as they tried to catch up. Mill­sap had 14 points and Beasley had 10 with two 3-point­ers, but the team’s ex­tended road trip looked like it took the legs out of the West­ern Con­fer­ence’s top team.

Chuck Bur­ton, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Den­ver’s Ja­mal Mur­ray drives against Char­lotte’s Cody Zeller dur­ing the sec­ond half on Fri­day.

Chuck Bur­ton, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Den­ver’s Nikola Jo­kic tries to shoot be­tween Char­lotte’s Cody Zeller, left, and Michael Kid­dGilchrist dur­ing the sec­ond half on Fri­day night.

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