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NBA Preview: From the desert to the Rockies, Pelicans to face Nuggets without Anthony Davis

On the second night of a back-to-back, AD will sit as New Orleans seeks to upset the West’s two-seed.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

From the desert to the Rocky Mountains, the Pelicans are drastically changing climates when they face the West’s second best team in the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets took a moment off from their recent streak of dominance to watch the Pelicans slog their way through a 130-116 victory over the hapless Phoenix Suns.

24 turnovers (12 from Holiday, Payton) and an early 10-point deficit weren’t enough to fall at the hands of the league’s worst squad (12 wins). 57 points from E’Twaun Moore, Julius Randle, and Cheick Diallo were enough to overcome the young group just before boarding the plane to Colorado.

But the Pelicans cannot expect the same level of tolerance from the 42-win Denver Nuggets. On top of having won 11 of their previous 14 games (before losing to Utah Thursday), the Nuggets are eighth in ball protection and playing the game of basketball just as God had intended.

Second in assists, fifth in rebounding, fifth average margin of victory, and third in offensive rating, the Denver Nuggets are clicking on all cylinders, with Nikola Jokic at the forefront of their well-balanced attack. If you’ll remember, it was Jokic and his triple-double that put the Pelicans asleep four weeks ago with back-to-back reverse layups against Jahlil Okafor to put the Pelicans down for good, 104-99, with 42 seconds to play.

But this team is not a one-trick pony like the fourth-rated offense in New Orleans. The 11th-rated defense is the league’s best in defending the boards, fifth in limited transition opportunities, and seventh in points allowed.

The Nuggets are one of the league’s most efficient half court squads on both ends, out executing opponents with fundamentals. The Nuggets don’t give teams the freedom to outrun them, carrying the league’s fourth-slowest pace.

By now the secret is out on Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, and they help round out one of the league’s very best benches alongside Plumlee, Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Isaiah Thomas and soon to be Michael Porter Jr.

One interesting development is Garry Harris’ demotion to the bench in recent games due to a previous adductor strain. Beasley has earned minutes in his place. Trey Lyles will also likely be held out due to a hamstring strain.

On the Pelicans side, Anthony Davis will sit for rest purposes after logging his expected 21-minute total against the Suns (17 points, eight rebounds), and Jahlil Okafor should start in his place.

Okafor’s development has hit a snag recently averaging just over 11 minutes per game in his last five. This could be due to the surge of fellow front court mate, Cheick Diallo, who has thrived due to Anthony Davis’ limitations. In his past five games, Diallo has averaged 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in under 20 minutes of action per night. Should this recent trend continue, Diallo may get some big boy minutes against Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic late tonight. However, I would still expect Okafor to match up with Jokic due to his mammoth size and low-block bullying.

So, join us tonight as we glimpse into an experiment that has seen the Pelicans overcome expectations at every turn with their franchise player on the bench. A Pelicans victory could further the narrative that the team is in fact better without him, while a loss slips the Pelicans closer and closer to landing Zion Williamson. A win-win!

Let’s geaux, Pels!

Starting lineups:

Pelicans: Payton - Jrue - Kenrich - Randle - Davis

Denver: Murray - Beasley - Barton - Millsap - Jokic

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (27-35) at Denver Nuggets

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

When: Saturday, March 2nd, 2019. 8:00 PM CST

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO