Who saw that coming?!
Led by Jahlil Okafor (27/12) and an All-Star level performance from Jrue Holiday (19/8/6/6 blocks) on both ends of the floor, Anthony Davis looked on from the bench as the Pelicans defeated the Houston Rockets 121-116 in Houston on TNT giving the Rockets just their sixth loss in the past seven weeks.
Playing without five of their six leading scorers (AD, Randle, Niko, Moore, Payton), six Pelicans scored in double figures and Solomon Hill had nine along with eight from Kenrich Williams (and 16 rebounds!!).
But there’s no time to celebrate the much-needed conversation shifter as the Pels are back in action tonight in the Smoothie King Center against the second-seeded team in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets.
Like the Rockets, the Nuggets win offensively in the half court with the league’s third-slowest pace (96.6), but second-rated offense (115.1).
Unlike the Rockets, however, the Nuggets also boast a top-ten defense, holding their opponents to just 106 points per game (sixth).
Scoring points in the paint came with ease against the Rockets and their league-worst defense in the paint (70 points), but could come as more of a struggle against the middling Nuggets (15th). And the Nuggets torch opposing defenses in that area as the fourth-highest scoring team in the paint, and seventh best rebounding team.
So far, Jahlil Okafor has been able to get away with being a dominant offensive presence, but the Pelicans will need his best efforts on both ends if there is any hope of stealing another big game against a Western rival.
The Pelicans can’t hope for the second-chance points they received against the Rockets. 15 offensive rebounds and 12 takeaways helped give the Pelicans’ the spark they needed to score at a high level, but the Nuggets are sixth-best in care of the basketball and eighth at grabbing opponent’s misses.
The Nuggets are stacked with depth from top to bottom at nearly every position. While Jamal Murray’s status is uncertain due to an ankle injury, the Nuggets can reach into their barrel of awaiting reserves to make do with the likes of Will Barton, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley.
Here’s what Michael Malone said this morning when asked for an update on Jamal Murray, who will miss his second straight game tonight with an injured left ankle. pic.twitter.com/zWB8msTGFV— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) January 28, 2019
At shooting guard, Gary Harris possesses the two-way talent to average 15 points per game, all while slowing team’s opposing playmakers. Juan Hernangomez and Trey Lyles help spell former All-Star Paul Millsap, while Miles Plumlee backs up potential MVP candidate, Nikola Jokic.
At 20 points per game to go along with 10 rebounds and eight assists on 50% shooting from the field, Jokic is the Nuggets’ offensive fulcrum. His initial success pirated by Chris Finch during the Nurkic-Jokic debate ultimately led to the Pelicans’ hiring leading to the “Point Boogie” designation that the Pelicans wore through much of last season in Rondo’s absence.
Small forward Torrey Craig may be considered the weak point of the Nuggets’ attack, but the Nuggets hope to add Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr. to their arsenal of weapons as soon as next month. Craig (43%/29% from three) could come as the perfect hiding spot for smaller defenders like Tim Frazier and Ian Clark and carried a game-worst -17 on Monday.
The Nuggets are coming off a spectacular victory of their own. Trailing by 25 in Memphis, the Nuggets roared back in the final 30 seconds, sealing their victory with a Jokic backbreaking basket.
While Jokic, Barton and Harris were impressive offensively, Malik Beasley was the energizer bunny, with 18 points in 24 minutes and a game-leading +14 .
The Pelicans will likely decrease the 40, 38 and 37 minute workloads to Darius Miller, Jahlil Okafor and Jrue Holiday in this one, meaning they’ll need even more production from a bench that got it done against the short-handed Rockets.
The Pelicans have won two consecutive games against the Nuggets at home, but have lost six of the past nine in the series, and are 24-32 lifetime against the Mile-High club.
If you’d like to consider what the Pelicans would look like in a hypothetical AD for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. trade, check out our friends’ work at Denver Stiffs. And read why Malik Beasley is here to save the day.
Let’s geaux, AD-less Pels!
Where To Watch
What: New Orleans Pelicans (23-28) vs Denver Nuggets (29-20)
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
When: Wednesday, January 30, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO