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Pelicans aim to counter Nuggets attack with defense and some home cooking

Denver’s offense is arriving red hot, but New Orleans’ defense has hit their stride. Who prevails??

Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Pelicans will welcome the Nuggets Friday night, and it’ll be an important test for New Orleans because it’s likely they’ll be shorthanded.

Although Josh Hart (left ankle sprain) and Brandon Ingram (right ankle sprain) are questionable to play, it doesn’t bode well that neither player was able to go through practice yesterday.

Thankfully, Jonas Valanciunas and Devonte’ Graham, who both sat out in Philadelphia, were not listed on the latest injury report.

The Nuggets are entering the Smoothie King Center as winners in eight of their last 11. Nikola Jokic (26.2 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.6 assists) has been a staple throughout this season, but Denver’s offense has recently found amazing new life as a whole.

In their last eight games, the Nuggets are averaging the most points per game in the league (121.8), a marked improvement over their 105.6 scoring average in their previous 39 games.

Denver is posting an average of 31.1 assists vs 13.4 turnovers during this hot stretch, while shooting lights out from the field (49.4 FG%, 39.9 3PT%, 84.5 FT%).

Jeff Green (14.6 points), Aaron Gordon (14.9 points) and Will Barton (16.9 points) have spread the veteran scoring duties evenly behind Jokic, with Gordon and Barton also making sizable contributions in threes, rebounds and assists. Add Austin Rivers and Bones Hyland currently setting the nets on fire from deep, the Nuggets are currently one of the most multi-faceted teams in the league.

The Pelicans will rely on playing in front of their home crowd (have won 8 of their last 10 in SKC) and a defense that’s ranked 9th in the league since January 13.

The secret to their success has been keeping opponent shot attempts on the low side inside the lane, leading to just 39.7 points in the paint (4th), while allowing a mere 30.1 3PT% on 3-pointers above the break (3rd) — and it doesn’t appear luck is at play as teams have shot 41.4% from deep on wide-open looks.

It’s also helped that New Orleans is averaging 17.8 deflections (4th), which is directly responsible for a healthy 17.3 fast break points per game (3rd). Being disruptive and getting out in transition is vital for this offense.

The last time these two teams met was early last month, with the Nuggets prevailing 120-114 in overtime. The Pelicans played well but didn’t execute quite as well as Denver over the final few minutes of regulation and in OT.

We’ll always have that Herb Jones dunk over Jokic though.

Fun stuff, for sure, but to notch the victory, the Pelicans will have to do better across the entire 48 minutes. The Nuggets are arriving a hotter ball club than in the last meeting and New Orleans’ roster is expected to be missing a key piece or two.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (18-29) vs Denver Nuggets (26-21)

When: January 28, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA 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.