The Denver Nuggets were well rested tonight when they welcomed the New Orleans Pelicans into the Pepsi Center and it was fairly clear who was the better team, at least for this one game. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had big performances while Anthony Davis was limited by injuries and Demarcus Cousins was limited by foul trouble. Paul Millsap also had a big night for Denver who got up early and never looked back. In the end they take this one wire to wire and get the win 146-114.
Denver opened the game with a quick 5-0 run before Rajon Rondo found his way in the lane to get New Orleans on the board. Early on the Nuggets were more crisp, they were getting open shots and making them whereas the Pelicans struggled to get anything to go down. That allowed Denver to build their lead early and get ahead by double digits before the eight minute mark. This made Alvin Gentry call a timeout but it was no help as Gary Harris buried back to back threes after the break. Millsap kept the pressure on New Orleans with a combination of shooting and passing and Denver’s defense remained incredibly stout. The Pelicans had just 6 points with five minutes to go in the quarter. After that the tides started to turn back in New Orleans favor. The Nuggets got careless with the ball and the Pelicans started hitting shots. Still Denver held a big lead after one, they were up 37-19
The Pelicans started out the second quarter aggressive but sloppy as did the Nuggets. Neither team was able to gain the edge on the other and with 8 minutes to go Denver’s lead was still 18. Will Barton was particularly active on the defensive end for Denver, including a nice rejection at the rim. Meanwhile Davis was getting it going for New Orleans and chipping away at Denver’s lead. With just over 5 minutes to go the Pelicans had the Nuggets lead down to 11. Denver was able to win the timeout and force the Pelicans into a bad shot at the end of the shot clock and then a turnover which let them stretch their lead back to 15. Davis and Jrue Holiday would respond for New Orleans though and at the end of the half Denver’s lead was just eight.
The second half started out on a sour note for the Pelicans. Jokic attempted a spin move in the lane and when he did he knocked heads with Davis and sent him sprawling. The Brow would have to check out of the game and headed to the locker room to be checked for a concussion, he would not return. Murray was carrying the offensive load for Denver early, scoring their first six points. Jamal and Gary helped grow the Nuggets lead back into double digits with a relentless offensive attack. Without the help of Davis, the Pelicans couldn’t respond and halfway through the third quarter the Nuggets lead was back up to 20. Millsap looked to pretty much take the spirit out of the Pelicans with a ferocious block on Cousins and if there was anything left of it Murray made sure to put it to bed with a continued attack on offense. When the third quarter ended the Nuggets were up 106-80
Despite the large lead, neither team was ready to go to garbage time lineups as the fourth quarter opened. The Nuggets came out sluggish, likely resting on the laurels of their lead. Naturally this drew the ire of coach Malone who called a quick timeout after New Orleans got the lead back down to 20. Emmanuel Mudiay kept the scoring going for Denver who were running a small ball + Plumlee lineup. With just over 7 minutes left in the game Denver’s lead was back above 20 and you could tell the Pelicans had very little left in the tank. Murray and Mudiay continued the onslaught as the quarter rounded the 6 minute mark. After that it was pretty quickly into garbage time and Denver coasted to the easy W.
Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Anthony Davis
The stars of each team did not disappoint. Jokic was doing his usual Jokic routine, setting up teammates within the flow of the offense, hitting open jumpers and dominating the glass. Davis likewise was doing Davis things, making ridiculous dunks, scoring at will and intimidating the Nuggets at the rim. Denver had a chance to make the game into a serious laugher in the second quarter but Davis wouldn’t let it happen. It was a shame that Davis got a concussion early in the third quarter. Obviously concussions are a serious injury and no one ever wants to see that happen, especially to a star like Davis, but also the game suffered because of it. Davis’ injury really took the wind out of New Orleans sails and the second half quickly devolved into a blowout.
Main thing I noticed: Things got kind of chippy there
At the start of the second half you could tell the Nuggets and Pelicans players had no love for each other. It started with Cousins holding onto Millsap’s arm well after a whistle and then when Jokic and Davis knocked heads it didn’t help any. The Joker and Cousins seemed to particularly not be getting along. Cousins is a guy who can get heated easily but it’s noteworthy that yet again a Jokic opponent got chippy with him. Nikola might not be the most imposing player, but he has a way of getting under a guy’s skin that is effective.
Closing thought: Homecourt advantage is back in Denver
It should not go unnoticed that the Nuggets are now 7-2 at home. What also should not go unnoticed is that the crowds are coming back to the Pepsi Center as well. While it wasn’t a sell out tonight it was a large and rowdy crowd that was 100% behind the Nuggets. More than anything though it felt like altitude had an effect tonight. The Pelicans, despite not playing yesterday, looked very depleted and disinterested in putting up a fight against the Nuggets. Denver has been running a lot this year and it looks like that’s starting to bring back their major homecourt advantage.