Hornets go deep in rout of Nuggets

Hornets forward center Frank Kaminsky drives past Nuggets forward center Mason Plumlee during the second half of their game at the Spectrum Center. Hornets win 110-93. (Sam Sharpe / USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets are still shorthanded and will be for some time, but are beginning to learn to play the hand they’ve been dealt.

The Hornets put together an excellent performance Wednesday night to easily roll over the Denver Nuggets 110-93 at the Spectrum Center.

The Hornets led by as many as 25 in the first half, outscoring the Nuggets 35-16 in the second quarter, and got outstanding performances from their starters and the bench.

Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to lead the way with 20 points, including 12 in the second quarter, and four others scored in double figures. Kemba Walker scored 19, rookie Malik Monk scored a career-high 17 off the bench, Jeremy Lamb scored 16, and Dwight Howard added another double-double with 15 points and 19 rebounds.

Coach Steve Clifford called it the team’s best effort of the season, and indeed it was a great way to bounce back from a 103-94 loss at Milwaukee on Monday night when the Bucks scored the last nine points.

“That was obviously the most-well-rounded, the most-balanced game we’ve played so far,” Clifford said. “We had better readiness to start. It’s the first time we’ve really been able to play from ahead, which was good. A lot of guys played good, but we got some really good bench play, too. So it was a good win.”

The Hornets (2-2) have won both home games and lost both road games. They continue to be without Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone with injuries, but they got Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back Wednesday night after he missed the first three games because of the death of his grandmother.

Kidd-Gilchrist was limited to two points in 11 minutes, but his return allowed the Hornets to go back to a more familiar rotation, and that helped everyone, according to Clifford.

“The best way for people to play well is to know when you’re going to play, and who you’re going to play with,” Clifford said. “That’s when you get continuity and consistency. Having him back, even though it’s for restricted minutes, it helps because we can get two groups. Tonight was a good sign that the second group will be able to function.”

Kaminsky led the bench brigade especially in the second quarter, when the Hornets took control.

“We had better ball movement tonight,” Kaminsky said. “That was the difference in the game against Milwaukee. We got stagnant at the end of the game and didn’t make things hard on them, on their defensive end. So tonight we moved it, played well, played inside out, and everything came way easier.”

Clifford said Kaminsky is a totally different player this year in his third NBA season.

“For him, it’s purpose of play — his decision making, when to drive, when to pass, when to shoot, and his movement and how he’s playing off the ball,” Clifford said. “He’s taking what the defense gives him. I tell him all the time, for him to be the player he can be, he’s got to be an all-around player. It’s not about how much he scores. He’s got to pass the ball, he’s got to drive and kick. He’s got to move. He came into this season with a totally different sense of purpose than he did in the first two years.”

The Nuggets (1-3) were led by Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris with 18 points apiece. Jamal Murray was the only other player in double figures with 16.

“I thought it really turned in the second quarter,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “Their bench came in and changed the complexion of the game. Johnny O’Bryant, Malik Monk, Frank Kaminsky. They had more energy than us. So I thought to start the game we were OK but for whatever reason, when we put our subs in the game, I just did not like our energy overall in the first half. We’re not good enough to come on the road and not play as hard as possible for 48 minutes.”

“We’ve definitely got to get off to better starts, especially on the road,” said Paul Millsap, who was held to eight points and five rebounds. “Effort has to be there, for sure.”

NOTES: Hornets G Kemba Walker hit two 3-pointers, giving him 800 for his career. That’s second on the Hornets‘ all-time list behind Dell Curry with 929. … The Nuggets were without F Juan Hernangomez (mono). … Hornets C Dwight Howard came into the game second in the NBA in rebounding, averaging 17.3. … Because of the injuries the Hornets have F Mangok Mathiang and G Marcus Paige up from the D League, and both played the last two minutes. … Kentucky coach John Calipari and North Carolina coach Roy Williams were in attendance. … The Hornets continue their three-game homestand versus Houston on Friday. … The Nuggets continue their four-game road trip against Atlanta on Friday before continuing on to Brooklyn and New York.