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NBA Preview: Can short-handed Pelicans pull off upset over Nikola Jokic and Nuggets?

New Orleans tries to get their much needed first win of the season against one of the West’s heavyweights.

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

No one said it would be easy.

Starting off the 2019-20 season without Zion Williamson? No bueno. Playing the Warriors also without Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors? That’s certainly not a walk in the park either. But getting a desperately needed first win of the season against the Denver Nuggets? That might be the most challenging feat yet for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The 0-4 Pelicans welcome in the 3-1 Denver Nuggets on Thursday evening. After winning its first three games, Denver finally dropped Tuesday night’s game in Dallas 109-106. Despite dropping the second game of a back-to-back, Denver has done little to show they won’t replicate last year’s success and finish atop the Western Conference standings.

Nikola Jokic is off to a fast start averaging 15.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and a mind boggling 6.5 assists. It’s year five in Denver for The Joker and it still amazes me how good of a passer Jokic is. Could he win this year’s MVP award?

There to receive Jokic’s slick passes is current leading scorer Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. The Nuggets’ core five compliment each other about as well as any group in the NBA, and all five are averaging at least 12 points, with Murray leading the way at 18.8 points per game. Murray, ever the high volume three-point shooter, has attempted 22 threes through Denver’s first four games but has only hit on seven. Against Dallas, Murray went 0-4; Murray has a quick trigger and can get rolling in a hurry. Now might be a bad time to mention the Pelicans are in the bottom-ten in three pointers allowed per game with 17.8.

One area to watch will be rebounding. Denver ranks ninth overall in rebounding percentage; New Orleans? Friends, the Pelicans rank 29th in rebounding percentage. Don’t expect Derrick Favors to be tasked with challenging Jokic, the Pelican center was listed as doubtful for Thursday’s game with knee soreness. Jahlil Okafor, Jaxson Hayes and Nicolo Melli will be called on to step up and play their best game of the young season if they want to approach Jokic’s productivity.

With the combination of a tough schedule and unfortunate injuries to Williamson, Holiday and Favors, an 0-5 possibility was always in play for New Orleans. Well, the Pelicans are staring that reality in the face — although Jrue Holiday sounds like he’ll return to the lineup. The season is nine days old, a far cry from it being “over” for the Pelicans. But New Orleans desperately needs a win and they need one now.

It is Halloween after all, a win over Denver sure would count as a treat.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (0-4) vs Denver Nuggets (3-1)

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Thursday, October 31, 2019. 8:30 PM CDT

How: TNT