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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look to close out season series with win against Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokic is expected to play after missing seven games due to a left ankle sprain.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans (15-14) meet in the Pepsi Center on Friday night to clash with the Denver Nuggets (15-13) for a third and final time this season. The Nuggets ran the Pelicans off the floor in their first matchup, but the Pelicans evened the season series with a victory in their last meeting.

The Nuggets have been almost unbeatable in the Pepsi Center as evidenced by a 10-2 at home, but their road record has kept them from moving into the upper echelon of the Western Conference.

To add to the Pelicans challenge, Nikola Jokic is expected to return to action as he’s no longer listed on the Nuggets injury report. Denver will warmly welcome him back as they’ve struggled to a 3-4 record without him. In other injury news, Paul Millsap remains out and Will Barton (lower back contusion) is questionable.

New Orleans hopes to bring their hot shooting to Denver as their three-point game has been magnificent as of late. New Orleans is averaging a league-high 118.4 points here in the month of December and a large part of that is due to the team’s 47.3 3PT% which is producing an average of 14.3 triples over their last eight games.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

While many have highlighted the production of Jrue Holiday and Darius Miller — and rightfully so, E’twaun Moore has come into his own this season. He’s averaging 13.6 points a game on the year, but it’s his 19.6 average in December that should grab your attention. Several games ago, he went off for 36 points against the Houston Rockets, setting a new career-high.

Many attribute the Pelicans improvement in their perimeter game to the return of Rajon Rondo. It remains to be seen if that is the case, but it’s hard to deny the better marksmanship has opened up the court for DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis — similar to Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram opening the field for Drew Brees?

Anyways, the question coming into the season of the Pelicans ability to shoot the ball from distance has been answered, but several issues remain — turnovers and the defensive side of the ball. Can New Orleans expand on the solid performances witnessed in the fourth quarters of recent wins against the 76ers and Bucks? One has to believe maintaining a higher degree of focus and effort for closer to 48 minutes is more optimal than relying on comebacks and what is likely some unsustainable shooting.

Be sure to tune into Fox Sports New Orleans at 8:00 CST. The Nuggets open up as early favorites, but we all know that means very little as the Pelicans consistency has wavered so much this season. Let’s just hope we have the same outcome as our last contest against the Nuggets in which the Pelicans walked away with the win.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets

Where: Pepsi Center

When: December 15, 2017, 8:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM