Nuggets vs Pelicans Preview: Nugs try to Ty on a third

Ty Lawson leads the Nuggets into New Orleans tonight - Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The Denver Nuggets have been back in business of late with Ty Lawson back in the fold. Can Number 3 and the Nugs keep it going to a trio of wins, and... should they?

Game 62: 2013-14 NBA Season
@

27-34 (11-18 road)
Series 1-1
25-37 (14-14 home)
March 9th, 2014
Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
4:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Ty Lawson
PG Brian Roberts
Randy Foye SG Eric Gordon
Wilson Chandler SF Tyreke Evans
Kenneth Faried
PF Anthony Davis
Timofey Mozgov
C Alexis Ajinca
Notes
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Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out, JaVale McGee(leg fracture) is out, Nate Robinson(ACL sprain) is out Injuries Ryan Anderson (herniated disc) is out, Jrue Holiday (right tibia) is out, and Jason Smith (knee) is out
The Nuggets are seeking a three-game winning streak after a six-game losing streak Facts The Pelicans are seeking a three-game winning streak after an eight-game losing streak

The Denver Nuggets ride a two-game winning streak into the Smoothie King Center tonight, seeking to win the rubber match in their season series with the New Orleans Pelicans. After winning their last two games against the barely-currently-playoff-bound Dallas Mavericks and the basement-dwelling Los Angeles Lakers, Denver starts a five-game road trip against a Pellies team trying to stretch into a three-game winning streak of their own. If anything is slightly less impressive about the Pelicans streak, it's that their two wins come against both basement dwellers, the West's Lakers and the East's Milwaukee Bucks. (And tangentially, how far have the mighty Lakers fallen?)

In the Pelicans favor, the game is in New Orleans, and the home teams have won each game handily (albeit both in December, when both teams were in different places), with the Nuggets taking NOLA by nine at the Pepsi Center, and the spread being 16 for the home team in Louisiana just less than two weeks later. The Pelicans are also showing more signs of life since moving Tyreke Evans into the starting lineup five games ago. Evans has averaged over 22 points per game in that stretch, shooting 50% from the field in that short time. Anthony Davis has given the Nuggets bigs some fits this season as well.

Denver has been playing more inspired ball of late, after a frightening stretch of dispirited play that seemed to directly coincide with Ty Lawson's injury absence. It was obvious earlier this season that Ty is the leader of this team from a speed and execution perspective, but the demeanor of the Nuggets while he was away made his "spiritual" value to the team ridiculously evident as well. Lawson is the straw that stirs the Nuggets drink, and the best hope the Nuggets have over these last 21 games to make some inroads to respectability in this lost season. Which begs a question (or two)...

The "Denver should be tanking" debate has followed an interesting arc over the season, with more and more Stiffs jumping onto the wagon as this season's losses mounted. Now that the playoffs are out of reach, the calls for player development and planning for next season are loud and strong, and quite rightfully so. Lawson makes the Nuggets a much more dangerous team, but they've still struggled mightily this season with Ty in place. Since his return, Ty is averaging over 40 minutes a game, more than might be healthy given his recent injuries.

Were his minutes limited, odds are good the Nuggets will struggle even more often on the floor, and in probability suffer more losses. But for the long term health of the team (and Lawson), might it make sense to keep Ty more in the 30-35 minutes per game and suffer the consequences? Is it more important to keep looking towards the highest pick possible, or to foster the guttering confidence of a young and impressionable squad? Aside from the steadying hand of Lawson, every Nugget this season has had moments that the spotlight shone on them rather unflatteringly. There's an argument to be made that the Nuggets should get the biggest stud they can in this year's deep-but-is-there-a-game-changer draft. But how big an impactful difference will there be between pick three and pick eight this season, and which fits better into the Nuggets plans and budget? As painful as they can be, losses facilitate the Nuggets odds of getting the best player they can out of that group.

But is there an equal argument to be made that the players the Nuggets expect to retain should be playing under the impression that winning is always the most important thing to the team? And in the long run, if the Nuggets play their cards right, is there any way it can be both (playing and learning solid ball while securing a decent draft slot in the lottery)?

What do you expect to kick off this five-game road trip, Nuggets Nation? Don't forget this morning kicked off Daylight Savings Time, and it's an early-ish Sunday start to a trip that gets a lot harder in a couple games (the remaining four on the trip are Charlotte-Orlando-Miami-Atlanta in order). Can the Nuggets keep the win streak going?

P.S. The Smoothie King Center? Can't the league have a committee which declines stadium names based on their ridiculousness? How far are we from "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Massengill Arena, home of the Los Angeles Douches..."? That's funnier to us SoCal denizens, I hope.

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