Gary Harris scores 27 as Denver Nuggets pull away from Charlotte Hornets

Gary Harris exploded to the basket and finished through contact, complementing his hot night from downtown with a conversion in the paint.

That highlight play was part of the Nuggets’ big third-quarter push, sending them to a methodical 121-104 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night at the Pepsi Center.

Denver has now won six of its last eight games heading into Thursday’s trade deadline, before a back-to-back road set at Houston and Phoenix on Friday and Saturday. The win also kept the Nuggets’ lead for the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings to at least one game over the Clippers, who faced Dallas late Monday.

And it was an important win for coach Michael Malone, who was curious to see how his team would respond against lesser competition following two thrilling wins over Oklahoma City and Golden State. Denver had dropped three games against teams with losing records (Sacramento, Atlanta, Phoenix) during a trying January.

Harris tied his career high with five 3-pointers — all in the first half — and finished with an efficient 27 points in 33 minutes. But Nikola Jokic (15 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists) and Jamal Murray (18 points, seven assists, four rebounds) spearheaded a Nuggets’ third quarter in which they outscored Charlotte 34-22. Jokic kick-started a 16-4 run with two 3-pointers, while Murray drilled two shots from beyond the arc after a Kemba Walker 3-pointer cut Denver’s lead to 85-76 with 3:05 left in the period. The Nuggets led by as many as 19 points in the second half on a night in which they shot 56.8 percent from the floor and 18-of-34 from 3-point distance.

The Nuggets’ big third quarter came after they let a double-digit advantage slip in the first half. Charlotte outscored the Nuggets 37-27 in the second quarter, flipping a 14-point deficit into a 54-48 lead when Walker nailed a corner 3-pointer with 2:57 to play. But Denver rallied back with a Jamal Murray 3 giving it a 63-62 lead at the break.

Walker led Charlotte with 20 points and four assists. Dwight Howard finished with 15 of his 19 points in the first half but was limited to seven rebounds after entering Monday ranked fourth in the NBA in that category at nearly 13 per game.

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