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NBA Preview: Can Ingram, Pelicans take advantage of Nuggets suddenly porous defense?

Nikola Jokic has been great, but Denver is very beatable right now

DENVER NUGGETS VS NEW ORLEANS PELICANS, NBA Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Pelicans open a two-game home stand on Wednesday with a matchup against the Nuggets, who represent an interesting test for New Orleans.

Denver is coming in not playing their best ball, having lost eight of their last ten games. While Nikola Jokic didn’t appear in four of those contests, the Nuggets have been the opposite of world beaters with him in the lineup despite insane averages of 26.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists over this stretch.

Aaron Gordon (15.6 points, 6.2 rebounds), Will Barton (15.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists) and Monte Morris (13.6 points, 5.0 assists) have been solid in support, but Denver clearly misses Jamal Murray (torn left ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (lower back surgery), who are both out indefinitely.

Denver hasn’t been able to outscore opponents, and that’s been a problem because their defense has plummeted to worst in the league, posting a ghastly 117.8 defensive rating in their last ten games.

What makes this all the more wild is the fact that the Nuggets were fielding the second-best defense in their first 13 games.

Fans of the Pelicans can relate to absurd undulations.

One doesn’t know what to expect from New Orleans on a game-by-game basis anymore outside of Brandon Ingram, who is averaging 30.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists since the November 29th win over the Clippers.

The Pelicans have a 6-7 record over their last 13 games, but their defense has either been really good or downright awful, per Christian Clark of Nola.com.

In losses, the Pelicans are allowing 116.9 points per 100 possessions. In wins, that number shrinks to 98.8 points per 100 possessions. That is a difference of more than 18 points per 100 possessions allowed in losses compared to wins.

David Grubb highlighted the stark differences as well in the preview against the Rockets.

In their victories, the Pelicans are playing better basketball than the Golden State Warriors on both ends of the floor. But when they lose, they play historically bad defense.

So how can the Pelicans ensure they walk away Wednesday with a victory? By placing a premium on winning the battle in the paint and coming out of the locker room with the right mentality to begin the second half.

Since the calendar flipped to December, the Nuggets have been getting outscored by an average of 16 points in the lane. The Pelicans have done a fantastic job of getting great looks from inside five feet all season — despite no Zion Williamson.

The Pelicans have been the second-worst team in third quarters this season, but they've been significantly better of late, as evidenced by a -3.2 net rating in the last eight games. Conversely, the Nuggets have been suffering the worst third quarters in the league since November 15 (-23.8 net rating).

With a 4-8 away record, the Denver Nuggets are unquestionably beatable. Can the New Orleans Pelicans summon the play seen from their previous six wins though?

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (7-19) vs Denver Nuggets (11-12)

When: December 8, 2021, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.