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Preview: Denver Nuggets return home to take on New Orleans Pelicans

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It’s good to be home

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are returning home from a six-game road trip on which they went 2-4. Though they came back with a losing record on the trip, in general vibes are still positive. Nikola Jokic should make his return to the lineup after missing seven games with an ankle injury and in his absence players like Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles have stepped up and shown that there’s more to this team than just the big Serbian down low. Jokic’s return will still be a welcome sight though as tonight Denver takes on the New Orleans Pelicans, who boast two of the best big men in the league. It’s the third game in four night for Denver, but they’ll need the same energy they showed against the Boston Celtics, plus a little luck, to get it done tonight.

The Nuggets of course saw the Pelicans on their recent road trip. That game showed that without Jokic, the Nuggets can be in trouble quickly. DeMarcus Cousins, one of the Pelicans skilled big men, messed around and had a 40/20 game to help lead New Orleans to a rout. Now with the Pelicans other star, Anthony Davis, back in the fold, the Nuggets will have to find a way to stop both big men to keep their seven-game home winning streak intact. But hey - it’s 12/15! This is the anniversary of Jokic’s insertion into the starting lineup as its key piece. There’s no way Denver can lose on such an auspicious day... right?

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (15-13) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (15-14)

When: 7:00 pm MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: The Bird Writes

Injury Report: Paul Millsap - out (wrist); Will Barton - questionable (back); Alexis Ajinca - out (knee); Solomon Hill - out (hamstring); Frank Jackson - out (foot); Tony Allen - out (knee)

Three thoughts

  • Show up to play from the start. Yes, this is the same note as the last time Denver played New Orleans, in which Denver did start fast but still lost. Assuming Jokic is back but will not play a full 30 minutes (which is still a large assumption considering coach Michael Malone’s habit of forgetting minutes restrictions or when a player has stayed in a game for an entire half) Denver needs to start fast and effectively. Whether Jokic is with the bench unit or the starters there can’t be any adjustment period for his return since he may not play even half the game. A slow start might doom the Nuggets to playing catchup the whole night and wasting those minutes, which has not been a successful recipe for them this year.
  • Denver’s bench has to win the battle. The Nuggets might be missing Millsap and perhaps Barton (still to be determined) but the Pelicans are down four players, including old Denver nemesis Tony Allen. If this is a battle of thin teams it’s actually the Pelicans who should be thinner. In the last matchup, the starters for the Pelicans scored 99 of the team’s 123 points, and the ratio is likely to be similar tonight. New Orleans has a starter-heavy lineup so when the backups are in the game the Nuggets have to make that time count. If Barton can’t play tonight that gets harder, but the bench must pull its own weight tonight.
  • Can somebody please stop Jrue Holiday? I don’t know if anyone on the Nuggets can stop Cousins or Davis, but they can’t allow a third scorer. In the last game, Holiday ruined Denver’s guards at every opportunity and brilliantly orchestrated the offense to Denver’s detriment. I don’t care if it’s Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay, Santa’s reindeer, the Michelin Man or the mascot Rocky, but somebody needs to keep the rest of the Pelicans ineffective, starting with Holiday. If there was ever a time to “make them feel us” as Malone likes to say, this would be that time.

Prediction: There will be scowls and brows but in the end Denver keeps its home winning streak and downs the Pelicans, 114-106. Jokic plays 22 minutes and the city of Denver throws him a parade, and names December 15th as the annual Nikola Jokic Appreciation Day. For at least a moment, all is well in the world.

Happy Jokic Day everyone! He’s the 12/15 pass that started it all: