Denver Nuggets Can’t Closeout Pelicans

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28:  Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) stone face before the Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers game on February 28, 2020, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Denver Nuggets came in on a 3 game winning streak and hit the road with a sour taste from some cajun cooking by the New Orleans Pelicans falling 113-108.

The Denver Nuggets had to be feeling good about themselves after their overtime stunner against the Bulls on Friday night. When Jamal Murray hit the smoothest last second three we ever did see. But unfortunately for the home team, they have to fly cross-country to Orlando with a sick feeling as if they ate bad gumbo.

The Pelicans on the other hand get a bit of a statement win against one of the best teams in the Association. The Nuggets came in and left as the leagues 3rd best FG shooters (48.8%), 4th best 3pt shooters (38.9%), 4th best in PPG (116), and the West’s 6th best record (25-17). The Pelicans are no push over, especially in the paint where they lead the league in points scored. They are 4th in FG % (48.5, just behind Denver), and 5th in PPG (115, again, just behind Denver).

The Nuggets lack of discipline on defense. And no effort on the offensive glass outside of Isaiah Hartenstein in the 4th quarter. That all lead to 28 free throws for New Orleans, to just 10 for Denver. It also lead to Paul Millsap fouling out in the final minutes. Steven Adams ending up with 13 total rebounds, of those, 7 were on offense. Three Pelican starters scored 20+(Williamson, Ingram, and Alexander-Walker). The Pelicans also had 7 blocked shots by 5 different players. To the 5 blocks by 3 players on Denver’s side (Hartenstein had 3 of those blocks alone). But even with all this positive, the only starter for New Orleans that finished with a positive +/- was Brandon Ingram at +3. This was due to the 16 turnovers Denver forced which kept this from being a blowout.

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 14: Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) goes for the dunk during the 1st half of the Duke Blue Devils game versus the Eastern Michigan Eagles on November 14, 2018, at Cameron Indoor Stadium (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Zion Williamson is flourishing before our eyes (30 pts, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block). The 2-man game they employ with him and Ingram (30 pts, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) is proving deadly. This team is still a few peaces from truly contending for a title. But they have a solid foundation, and are starting to see fruits from that Anthony Davis seed they planted.

Kira Lewis Jr., the rookie from Alabama, showed some flashes tonight. With the second best +/- for New Orleans at +11 with 6 points and 1 steal on 3-6 shooting. The stats aren’t going to blow you away, but his shot over Joker in the 3rd should. This kid looks like he deserves more time on the floor, he’s a little undersized, but showed no fear of going in the paint. Look for this kid to make more noise around the league when this team starts winning.

It’s not as if the Denver Nuggets 2-man game wasn’t working. As you can see below courtesy of the Denver Nuggets Social Team:

The Joker and Blue Arrow put on their capes. As Joker had yet another triple-double and Jamal was almost 60% from the field. The rub lies with the bench where the Nuggets got only 17 total pts and 9 rebounds. Not a single bench player for Denver had a positive +/-. While the entire Pelicans bench had nothing less than a +8. The Pelicans received 23 total pts, 15 total rebounds, 11 total assists, and 3 steals from there’s.

Poor bench performance, low number of free throws taken vs high number given up. And neither Murray or Jokic truly taking over the game doomed Denver in the 4th. The Nuggets lead by as much as 9 points in the 1st quarter, but after dropping behind by 7 at the half. They never lead again by more than 4. Then once Zion and company smelled blood in the water with less than 2 minutes to go, they pulled away.

Unlike Friday when there seemed to be a calm about Jokic and Murray during the storm of a comeback. The Sunday matinee was the complete opposite as with less than a minute to go, both Murray and Jokic had a shot at wide open 3’s to get the Denver Nuggets within 1, on the same possession, and both fell short. This was the moment I knew history would not repeat itself and the Nuggets had simply run out of gas. Here’s to hoping a long flight cross-country will clear their minds and leave them with some fresh energy in the first night of a back to back in Orlando then Toronto.

Notes:

The Nuggets play next on Tuesday night March 23 at 5:00 PM MST

How to watch/listen:

Denver Market: Altitude TV and Altitude Sports Radio 92.5

Orlando Market: Fox Sports Florida