The Charlotte Hornets embark on a six-game road trip through the Western Conference on Sunday night, and it starts with a tough matchup.

Charlotte has lost seven in a row and faces a Denver Nuggets team looking to erase their loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. Although the Hornets have gotten Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball back into the lineup, going against a grumpy Denver team will be a challenge.

“Obviously having Gordon back helps a lot, you can see, Melo, too. It’s going to take a few games for them to get their conditioning and their rhythm and everything,” Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford said. “It’s tough, but nobody feels bad for you in this league. There’s a score, there’s a record, you have to own it and you’ve got to get ready to play the next game.”

Defense has been the issue for the Hornets during their losing streak. Charlotte has allowed 100 or more points in all but one game this season and is giving up an average of 132.3 points in the last three games.

Detroit scored 141 on the Hornets in Wednesday’s overtime win for the Pistons, the most Charlotte has given up this season, so the 125 Atlanta scored Friday night was an improvement.

Ball scored 27 points in his second game back while Hayward had nine in his first action since missing nine games with a fracture in his left shoulder.

Mason Plumlee, who will face his former team on Sunday, said Charlotte has to take pride in its defense.

“It’s just going out and having an ego on defense individually and collectively,” he said. “We’ve just got to play defense regardless if we’re scoring or not.”

Defense will be a point of emphasis for the Nuggets, who gave up 126 to the Lakers on Friday night.It was the fourth time in the last six games a team has scored 120 or more points on Denver.

“You can win regular season games like that, but you’re not going to win a playoff series,” head coach Michael Malone said after his team gave up 128 points in a win over Washington on Wednesday night. “You’re not going to go deep in the playoffs if your recipe is to outscore teams.”

Denver got little production from its bench in Friday night’s loss, scoring just 23 of the 108 points. The absence of Michael Porter Jr., who has missed 11 straight games with a heel injury, doesn’t help, and there’s no timeline for his return.

The Nuggets got a bit of a scare when Jamal Murray hobbled off the court late in the loss to Los Angeles. He tweaked his left ankle and he is listed as probable.

Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (right knee) also is probable.

Murray has started to round into form after missing the end of the 2020-21 season and all of last year after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee. He scored a combined 51 points in a two-game span, had just five against the Wizards but bounced back to score 23 against the Lakers.

–Field Level Media