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Hornets win again without Stephenson

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Updated 12 months ago on
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the Charlotte Hornets, it may be a case of addition by subtraction.

The Hornets won their third straight without injured guard Lance Stephenson on Monday night as they

The Hornets never trailed, leading by as many as 23 points in the first half and by 30 in the second half on a night when they shot 53.8 percent from the field.

It was the third straight impressive performance since Stephenson — who signed a three-year, $27 million free-agent contract last summer — went out with what the team is terming a pelvic strain.

“That was the best game we’ve played, obviously, from start to finish,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We had good readiness and purpose. We’ve had three games now where we’ve cut down on mistakes and our execution has been better. Our purpose, and our play, has really been good.”

Clifford was cautious when asked if it was a coincidence that the Hornets have started playing their best basketball of season since Stephenson went down. The 6-foot-5 guard has had a hard time fitting into flow offensively throughout his time in Charlotte, and the Hornets have actively tried to trade him in recent weeks without any takers.

The Hornets (9-19) had lost 14 of their previous 16 before Stephenson was sidelined. They had not won a game by more than nine points all season before this streak, and now they have won the last three games by an average of 21.3 points.

“I’m looking at it and saying, as talented as he is, and I think he’s playing well, too, then what can we become playing like this playing with him also,” Clifford said. “What things are good that he can add to our team when we’re playing this way, who should he be on the floor with, and things like that. I think that’s what we have to figure out when he comes back. That’s when you have a chance to maximize your roster.”

Center Al Jefferson led the Hornets with 22 points in just 26 minutes, sitting out the entire fourth quarter. He had 18 in the first half, and finished 10 of 13 from the field.

The Hornets also got 18 points and nine assists from guard Kemba Walker, 13 points from guard Gary Neal, and 10 points each from guard P.J. Hairston and forward Cody Zeller. Hairston also had 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his career.

“We’re just executing better and playing some great defense, taking advantage of our opportunities,” Walker said. “I think we’ve become more conscious of playing through Al these last three games, early and often, and we’re just making plays.”

The Nuggets (12-16) didn’t put up much of a fight on either end of the court. They fell behind 11-2 right off the bat and it only got worse. The Hornets led 28-18 after one quarter, 56-33 late in the second, and 84-57 after three.

The Nuggets shot just 37.8 percent from the field and were two of 18 from 3-point range. Guard Ty Lawson scored 18 and forward Alonzo Gee added 15, but they were the only Nuggets in double figures.

“I don’t know what to say,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “You have eyes, you saw it. It was an ugly, nasty game. We just have to flush it down the toilet and get ready for tomorrow night’s game in Brooklyn and hope that we can salvage this two-game road trip.”

The Nuggets had a two-game winning streak snapped.

“We didn’t do anything defensively,” Shaw said. “We didn’t reach any of our defensive goals. I don’t think we kept them under 24 or 25 for any of the quarters tonight. It started with the first play of the game. We don’t have a go-to guy that’s going to get 40 and keep us in a game like this. We’re not good enough to not come out and not play desperate, especially on the defensive end. The team that scores 95 points gets 110 tonight and gets to play all their guys. I guess we got to play all our guys, too, but in a different fashion.”

NOTES: The Nuggets were without F Danilo Gallinari, who suffered a torn right meniscus in a 76-73 win over Indiana on Saturday. Gallinari underwent surgery on Monday and will miss at least three weeks. Also out were G Randy Foye (right vastus lateralis strain), F Darrell Arthur (left peroneals strain) and C JaVale McGee (strained left lower leg). … The Nuggets are now 11-1 when they outshoot opponents from the field, and 1-15 when they are outshot by opponents. … Nuggets G Ty Lawson came into the game second in the NBA in assists at 10.7, but had no assists in the first half and finished with only four. … The Hornets will play at Milwaukee on Tuesday.

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