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NBA Preview: Late-game execution will likely decide victor between New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets

Will Anthony Davis or Nikola Jokic reign supreme?

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

The New Orleans Pelicans (8-7) have a pivotal matchup against the Denver Nuggets (10-5) tonight in the Smoothie King Center.

After having lost less than three weeks ago, it’s imperative to avoid another defeat to the same Western rival for tie-breaker reasons. New Orleans is already off to a poor 4-7 conference record while Denver sits at 6-3. If the season goes down to the wire like in the previous campaign, a win here or there against direct playoff competitors could have major seeding implications.

Fortunately for the Pelicans, they’ll have the services of Anthony Davis this time round against Nikola Jokic and his impressive averages of 21.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. Coming off a season-high 43 points against the Knicks, Davis rediscovered a shooting stroke that has surprisingly been off more times than not since sustaining an elbow strain. When AD has surpassed a 50% field goal percentage, New Orleans is a perfect 6-0 in the W/L column.

Prior to crushing the Atlanta Hawks a few nights ago, the Nuggets had lost four straight games. The main reason for the slide was largely a failure to execute during crunch time in three of those matchups (MEM, BKN and MIL). Following the loss to the Bucks, Denver’s head coach Mike Malone didn’t hold back.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

“Turnovers down the stretch, lack of execution, just a comedy of errors down the stretch,” Malone said. “You have to be able to execute, you have to be able to take care of the basketball, not throw the ball to the other team and fuel their break.”

Prior to last night’s come-from-behind victory against the Knicks, the Pelicans had struggled with finishing close games, having lost three of five contests. However, Julius Randle and Jrue Holiday changed that tune by combining for 11 of the Pelicans final 17 points, which included a couple of big offensive putbacks, a dagger three and two free throws in the waning seconds.

Despite having lost two of their previous three contests against the Nuggets, New Orleans could have won all three had the execution been crisper down the stretch. In October’s matchup, the Pelicans trailed 96-94 with 3:50 to go, and last season’s 117-111 loss came in overtime after New Orleans was outscored by ten points in the fourth quarter.

So really, this aspect will be the biggest key to Saturday’s game, and once again, the Pelicans will most likely be asked to do it shorthanded against Denver. After getting Elfrid Payton momentarily back, New Orleans lost him to another injury before the first quarter had ended versus the Knicks.

Regardless, there can be no excuses — don’t walk but run hard through that finish line.

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Denver Nuggets

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Wednesday November 17, 2018, 6:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO