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Short-handed New Orleans Pelicans nearly pull off comeback before succumbing to Denver Nuggets in final minutes, 116-111

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For the second game in a row, Anthony Davis was unavailable and Elfrid Payton joined him on the sidelines.

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

Anthony Davis can’t come back soon enough.

That’s the sentiment echoing all across the Pelicans organization as New Orleans dropped their second consecutive game and first of the five-game West Coast road trip to the Denver Nuggets, 116-111.

It appeared as though New Orleans had found some answers without Davis, Elfrid Payton and Darius Miller as the Pelicans opened the game with a 24-20 lead after the first quarter. But Denver stormed back in the second quarter, aided largely by hitting five of ten three-pointers in the frame, and the Nuggets built a comfortable 58-45 lead at the break.

While the Pelicans outscored the Nuggets in both the third and fourth quarters, Denver led for the entire duration of the second half. The Nuggets greatest lead was 18 points but to New Orleans’ credit, they kept whittling away at the deficit, getting to within two points before Malik Beasley hit a backbreaking three and followed that basket with a layup.

The Davis-less Pelicans needed contributions from all available bodies tonight and they largely got good return. Jrue Holiday went for 16 points, eight rebounds and nine assists; E’Twaun Moore had 18 points on just 10 shots; Nikole Mirotic had a double-double with 17 points and 10 boards and Julius Randle led all Pelicans with 24 points, recording also eight rebounds and six assists off the bench.

But lets talk about a bunch of reserves who normally are not in the regular rotation: Jahlil Okafor (nine points, three rebounds), Frank Jackson (10 points, two three-pointers), Cheick Diallo (eight points, five rebounds) and Tim Frazier (five points, three rebounds, three assists). Alvin Gentry, in particular, was happy with effort shown during the comeback and the production by his bench.

“We fought like crazy,” said Gentry. “I’m really proud of the guys. I thought our bench did a great, great job. Cheick came in and gave us great energy. I thought Frank Jackson played tonight like we feel like he’s going to play for us for most of the season.”

New Orleans shot better from the floor than Denver and had an equal amount of made threes, points in the paint, and assists; the Pelican bench also outscored Denver’s 47 - 38. But New Orleans also turned the ball over 22 times, leading to 27 points for the Nuggets. All of these factors proved to be too damning for the already understaffed Pelicans to overcome.

For Denver, their starting backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris each put up 23 points and Paul Millsap was right behind them with 18 points. And for the second night in a row, the Pelicans allowed the opponent’s star big man to have a stellar performance as Nikola Jokic came within a rebound of a triple-double, 12 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

For New Orleans, this five-game road trip won’t get any easier, especially if Davis and Payton are still absent, as the Pelicans travel to Oakland to take on the Warriors, who blew out the Bulls by a 149-125 margin and watched Klay Thompson set a new league record for made threes in a game with 14!

The good news is New Orleans seemed to figure out some things in the event that Davis and Payton are out for a third straight game. And if Davis and Payton do manage to make their way back, that’s all the better. The bad news is the Warriors are the Warriors. And it doesn’t seem like much if anything will slow them dudes down.