Two teams in various stages of triage meet in New Orleans on Thursday night to close out the month of March when the Denver Nuggets take on the New Orleans Pelicans in a game that has some draft implications for both teams but is far from the playoff-implications duel some hoped for when the season began. New Orleans has been absolutely hammered with injuries, even more than the Nuggets, and while both teams have kept up a good fighting spirit some things are too much to overcome.
After three quarters of good basketball against Memphis, Denver had to hang on late to eke out a 109-105 victory and post their first winning month since 2014 (October, if you count the 1-0 month, or January if you want to go with a real month). It's been a while. Adam Mares called upon the Nuggets to forfeit all their remaining games in the name of increasing their draft hopes, but Denver obviously was not listening.
The Pelicans came back and gave a good accounting against the Spurs after beating the Knicks in their previous game, but wins are going to be hard to come by for the Pels down the stretch, which helps their case to keep a high seed and get Anthony Davis some help, but hurts Denver's chances to do the same and add to their young talent cache.
|New Orleans Pelicans||Denver Nuggets
|PG||Toney Douglas||Emmanuel Mudiay||Nuggets|
|SG||Jordan Hamilton||Gary Harris||Nuggets|
|SF||Dante Cunningham||Jakarr Sampson||Even|
|PF||Alex Ajinca||Kenneth Faried||Nuggets|
|C||Omer Asik||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets
Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Jusuf Nurkic,Jameer Nelson
Key Matchup: Pelicans vs. the angry spirits of vengeance. Watching the Pelicans try to find new bodies to sacrifice on the court inside the Smoothie King Center is like watching a casting call for a horror movie sequel. The Pelicans just signed Jordan Hamilton (yes, that Jordan Hamilton) and James Ennis to 10-day contracts, because this has happened to their roster:
Ouch. The Nuggets have had it bad, but that's some next-level pain on a team expected to compete for home court in the playoffs this year. I don't know who staged a red wedding in New Orleans, but somebody needs to get on that exorcism business, and coach Alvin Gentry already has people looking into it:
A smiling Alvin Gentry said voodoo doctors/spiritual advisers have already reached out to #Pelicans to help: "We've got some volunteers."— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) March 30, 2016
If the Pels can keep enough active bodies around to avoid a forfeit, though, they will keep playing hard for Gentry. Most of those guys are trying to get another season in the league and this is their audition tape. Beating the Nuggets looks good on a resume, and you can be sure they'd like nothing better than to check that box.
One thing to watch: can Jusuf Nurkic return from the sick bay? Nurkic has been felled for the last two games by a mystery illness (that also seems to have caught offensive coach Chris Fleming in its wake) but the second half of a back-to-back is as good a time as any to get off the bed and help Denver win. The Pelicans don't have an abundance of firepower, but they do have two things: scrappy players and some size that they're willing to deploy. New Orleans has three centers on their roster and all will get decent minutes because they don't have other options.
With the Pelicans forced to go big out of necessity it's as good a time as any to deploy the Balkan Towers lineup of Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. Jokic tied his career-high with 14 rebounds against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, but both he and Faried got into foul trouble and having another big body in there against Asik, Perkins and Ajinca would be useful. Getting to put Jokic and Nurkic out there together for 5 or 10 minutes on the evening would be a nice experiment too.
Prediction: Both teams are tired but the Nuggets have more bodies and more talent on the court and secure a 102-96 victory. Sorry Adam...