Well, you knew the odds were stacked against New Orleans this Friday evening.
Missing their two leading scorers in Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas, the Pelicans were always going to have trouble keeping up with the Nuggets, who entered SKC on a high-scoring binge over the last few weeks. However, as it’s become a customary display this season, New Orleans didn’t forget to bring their energy — they tallied 14 steals — making things competitive despite the 116-105 loss.
After jumping out to an 11-6 start, the Pelicans watched Denver go on a 9-0 run and then later seize a 26-17 first quarter lead behind 12 trips to the free throw line. The Nuggets dictated the pace because New Orleans committed nine personal fouls within the game’s first 12 minutes.
On the other end of the floor, the Pelicans were enjoying great looks, but they simply couldn’t hit any open shots, knocking down just two of 19 attempts from 3-point range in the first half.
New Orleans only trailed 50-48 at halftime, though, as Denver didn’t shoot much better from deep (3-13) and committed 13 turnovers. Plus Nikola Jokic had to take a seat early after picking up a third foul with 3:49 left in the first.
Those trends changed drastically in the second half. The Nuggets stopping making errors at the same rate (eight turnovers), found the range (9-20 3-pointers), and Jokic was able to stay on the floor. And did he ever impose his will, finishing his night with a 29-point, 13-rebounds, 10-assist triple-double.
A key point in the contest came midway in the third quarter. With the Pelicans trailing by just two, Nikola Jokic hit a three. After grabbing a defensive rebound on Denver’s next possession, Willy Hernangomez threw an outlet pass ... right to the Nuggets, which wound up another triple from the top of the key for Jokic.
Denver maintained at least a two possession lead for the rest of the way, but after trailing by double digits for much of the fourth, New Orleans made one last stand towards the end of regulation.
Down 110-104 with 1:50, the Pelicans came up with a couple of blocked shots, but Graham followed that up with a missed jumper on the other end.
With another incredibly poor shooting display from deep (5-34) this month, the Pelicans are shooting just 30.9% on 3-pointers this month — the worst in the league.
They were also not particularly clean in their execution in other areas. I counted at least three fastbreak opportunities where New Orleans had the man advantage, but failed to walk away with points, often settling for a 3-point attempt, too.
With Jokic and DeMarcus Cousins in foul trouble, the Pelicans should have prioritized more attacks to the rim.
Herb Jones, who was sensational in the second quarter, finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and five steals. His growth from month to month has been significant and it’s exciting to ponder what’s in store for February.
Willy Hernangomez posted a double-double (18 points, 16 rebounds) and racked up four blocks. Josh Hart added 16 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Garrett Temple missed all five of his field goal attempts but set a new career high with five steals.
Aside Jokic’s triple-double, Aaron Gordon scored 20 points for the Nuggets, and Bryn Forbes added 14 off the bench.
New Orleans will take the floor inside the Smoothie King Center in less than 24 hours, with a 6:00 p.m. tip-off against the Boston Celtics.