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Zion Williamson shines in limited minutes but New Orleans Pelicans lay egg in 113-106 loss to Denver Nuggets

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Not doing the little things destroyed New Orleans odds of winning this one.

Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Following a disappointing 113-106 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday, the New Orleans Pelicans have an unflattering 0-2 record during the Zion era.

One witnessed the trouble brewing early. Denver led for most of the first quarter, but New Orleans added insult to injury by closing the frame poorly. What was a 27-24 deficit with 2:14 remaining wound up a 37-28 difference by the time the buzzer sounded.

In addition, a theme quickly emerged on the night: the Pelicans couldn’t keep the Nuggets off the glass, avoid silly turnovers or make their free throws — all the little things that good teams do well. After the first twelve minutes of action, the Nuggets had seven offensive rebounds while the Pelicans had made 5 of 8 free throws and committed four turnovers.

By the conclusion of the contest, Denver had grabbed an astounding 24 offensive rebounds; meanwhile, New Orleans finished with 17 turnovers and had missed 12 of 30 free throws. Conversely, the Nuggets had accumulated only 11 turnovers and made all 20 of their free throw attempts. This in a nutshell explains how an away team can walk away with the victory despite shooting 37.7% from the field and 31.7% from the three-point line.

“That’s just too much to overcome,” said Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “When you think about the fact that they had 106 shots at the basket and got over 40 percent of them back, that’s another thing tough to overcome. It never allows us an opportunity to get out into the open court, play in transition.”

What’s wild is that Zion Williamson was brilliant in his 21 minutes of action, and was a difference-maker right from the tip. He scored 15 points (7-9 FGAs, 1-4 FTAs) and grabbed six rebounds but everyone is going to remember this freakish block.

One would have assumed the hiccups would revolve around integrating Zion Williamson into the rotations. Thus, during the time he sits resting on the bench, the players should perform better considering they have 44 games together without the first overall 2019 Draft pick under their belts.

Nope.

Zion finished with a +16 plus/minus. When he was on the floor, the Pelicans clearly looked like the stronger team. When he sat, they were appalling.

“I don’t really buy that as an excuse for what happened tonight because he’s out there and has been positive with everything when he’s on the floor,” responded Gentry to a question regarding Zion’s re-integration as a possible source for the bad play. “He’s played great for us. At the end of the day, when he’s on the floor we’ve been plus 16 (points) tonight. It doesn’t have anything to do with integrating him back in and everything to do with us keeping them off the offensive boards. That’s where the game was.”

Only two other Pelicans managed to pass the eye-test for positive contributions. Josh Hart was flat-out awesome and JJ Redick had a good shooting night (18 points on 10 shots, five threes). Hart finished with an impressive line of 15 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and a block, but the best part was that he damn near willed the team to an undeserving victory. Hart posted a couple of And-1s and a huge three-point during the fourth quarter, but he was largely the only positive once Zion’s night was done with 6:52 remaining in the game.

Jrue Holiday couldn’t get anything going tonight and his shooting was as poor as we had witnessed at the start of the season. It took him 17 shots to reach 12 points. He missed all four of his three-point attempts. And despite the nine assists versus three turnovers, Jrue’s decision-making wasn’t good.

On the other hand, Brandon Ingram didn’t have as many touches as Holiday, but he didn’t prove worthy of more. He knocked down just 3 of his 11 shots against the Nuggets defense and posted a five-to-four assist-to-turnover ratio.

Nikola Jokic finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and had seven rebounds, but Torey Craig and Gary Harris came up big defensively against Holiday and Ingram. Michael Porter Jr. also impressed, finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three threes off the bench.

Hats off to the Nuggets for simply wanting it more. New Orleans failed to box out well and Denver took advantage, grabbing a lot of their misses inside the paint for second shot attempts. The Nuggets finished with 106 field goal attempts, 24 more than the Pelicans.

With the loss, New Orleans slips to 17-29 and sit 4.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

Up next, the Boston Celtics arrive in town for a Sunday matchup, tipping at 5 p.m. Considering the hole they’ve dug themselves in, the time is now to start beating playoff caliber opponents.