With Al Jefferson back and Gerald Henderson contributing more, the Charlotte Hornets are trying to extend a positive stretch despite losing their top playmaker.
As they forge ahead without Kemba Walker, the Hornets look to avoid dropping back-to-back games for the first time in 2015 Saturday night when they visit the Denver Nuggets.
Charlotte (19-27) had won nine of 11 – including a 3-0 mark without Walker – before Wednesday’s 95-86 loss at San Antonio in the opener of a unusual three-game road swing that concludes Monday in the nation’s capital.
Walker totaled 23 points on 7-of-31 shooting in two games while trying to play through a left knee injury before sitting out Monday’s 76-71 home win over New York. He underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn lateral meniscus and will be out at least six weeks.
The point guard leads the Hornets with 18.8 points and 5.2 assists per game, though coach Steve Clifford believes his team still has enough to compete for an Eastern Conference playoff spot until he returns.
"We can take the easy way out when we’re playing without (Kemba)," he said, "but obviously, to me there is a toughness and intelligence about the group of guys that are playing right now that should allow us to win here going forward."
Jefferson should be able to help as he continues to work his way back to pre-injury form. He finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds against the Spurs in his fifth game since missing nine due to a groin injury.
Jefferson had 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting in a 110-82 home win over Denver on Dec. 22 that remains Charlotte’s largest margin of victory this season. He’s averaged 27.7 points and 10.3 boards in his last three matchups with the Nuggets.
Henderson scored a team-best 18 points Wednesday and has averaged 17.5 in the four games Walker has missed.
The Hornets have scored 82.5 per game over their last four, but they’ve allowed a league-low 89.8 in 2015. They’ll look to continue that effort as they try to avoid losing two straight for the first time since a five-game skid from Dec. 26-Jan. 2.
Denver has been scuffling offensively, averaging 93.1 points in its last seven games after scoring 105.0 over the previous 11.
The Nuggets (19-28), losers in eight of nine, look to bounce back from their worst offensive performance in nearly 11 years after shooting 33.3 percent and going 2 for 26 from 3-point range in Thursday’s 99-69 loss at Memphis.
Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried were the only double-digit scorers for Denver, which had its lowest point total since a 93-67 loss at San Antonio on April 14, 2004.
"In these kinds of situations, I’d have more respect if guys just told me that they didn’t feel like playing from the start," coach Brian Shaw said. "I’m just sick and tired."
Ty Lawson, averaging a team-high 16.6 points, has totaled 14 on 5-of-23 shooting in his last two games. He had 18 points last month versus Charlotte and has scored 20.7 per game over his last three meetings.
The Nuggets had a five-game home winning streak snapped in this series with a 101-98 loss Jan. 29, 2014. Lawson did not play due to a shoulder injury, while Jefferson keyed Charlotte’s victory with 35 points and 11 rebounds.