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A lot of intrigue surrounds Pelicans-Nuggets matchup

Two early-season Western Conference elites do battle

New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Today’s matinee will feature two teams tied for second atop the Western Conference standings.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets will tip-off at 2:30 p.m. and this will be a fascinating matchup, starting with two big men that could potentially each notch a triple-double.

Nikola Jokic is arriving with 79 career triple-doubles and two of them came against the Pelicans last season. His most recent one was an absolutely magnificent effort. On March 6, Jokic tallied 46 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in Denver’s 138-130 victory over New Orleans.

While Zion Williamson is without a triple-double in 102 career games yet, his averages of 28.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists over the last three games suggest it’s only a matter of time.

But Williamson’s recent play should be appreciated with greater satisfaction, as his best stretch as a pro has included the spectacular on both sides of the ball.

The combinations of points, rebounds and assists are nice, but his 10 steals and seven blocks in the past five games jump off the page. This activity of late should remind everyone of the player that dominated the college scene at Duke.

He’s ripping steals with incredible nimbleness while chasing down blocks a la LeBron James. The stats also say that he’s been the Pelicans’ best deterrent within five feet of the rim, holding opponents to a 56.3 FG%.

Williamson continuing to carry a lot of the burden is important because Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones will be unavailable again. He’ll need some help though, Aaron Gordon is as good of a defender as you’ll find at power forward today. So be sure to keep an eye on Zion’s frontcourt running mate.

Jonas Valanciunas was fantastic against the Spurs a few days ago (21 points, 11 rebounds) and he’s also had success against Jokic in the past. In three matchups last season, Valanciunas put up averages of 21.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists against the Nuggets.

Beyond the numbers, watch if Valanciunas tries to utilize the whole floor, as the New Orleans coaching staff has requested.

“I don’t quite know exactly how many shots JV is going to shoot on the perimeter, but I want him to feel comfortable doing it,” Willie Green said after yesterday’s practice. “The more he can get comfortable taking some 3s, but also pick-and-pop shots that aren’t 3s, it’s a good shot for him.

“He’s an elite shooter. That’s what we’re trying to get across more than anything. You can go in the post and have more of an impact when you’re spreading teams out on the perimeter. I think he’s starting to get a better feel for it and we’re definitely reinforcing it.”

One last item of note, while Michael Porter Jr is out with a heel injury, Jamal Murray is playing his best brand of basketball since returning from a long ACL recovery.

Over his last four games, the seventh overall pick from the 2016 NBA draft is averaging 24.8 points and 5.8 assists. He’s found his shooting stroke, as evidenced by a 53.7 field goal percentage from the field and a 46.4 three-point percentage.

Does Green give Dyson Daniels his second career start in hopes of slowing down Murray, or does he look to either Naji Marshall or Jose Alvarado to accomplish the job?

So, Sunday’s matchup offers a lot of intriguing storylines. Be sure to tune in and watch how it all unfolds.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (14-8) vs Denver Nuggets (14-8)

When: December 4, 2022, 2:30 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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.