Coach Malone decided to switch things up in hopes of getting a better start to games. The Nuggets went small with Will Barton inserted into the lineup in place of Mason Plumlee, shifting Wilson Chandler to the four and Kenneth Faried to center. It worked - the Nuggets came out flying and with a ton of energy on both ends of the floor. Barton fit in nicely to his starting role by making three 3-pointers (6 attempts!) in the first quarter to lead the Nuggets with 11 points. Denver’s starters were able to run and attack the paint, fueled by pesky defense that forced several turnovers.
With Barton starting, the bench was a much different story and struggled all night Like clockwork, the second unit came in and the Pelicans went on a 19-9 run to close out the quarter and dissolve the Denver lead in the process. After one, the game was tied at 33 a piece.
The bench looked a lot more coherent in the second quarter, in large part thanks to Gary Harris who hit some shots and created some of his own offense. Harris was an offensive machine in the first half, finishing with 18 points. Mudiay played 16 straight up until the half but managed to hit three 3-pointers and put up 13 points. Defense was optiona, however. Jrue Holiday attacked the paint with success and Cousins had his way with Faried and Plumlee in the second quarter. Both kept New Orleans in it with 19 points each in the first half as the Pelicans led by one at the break.
The Pelicans came out and scored the first seven points of the second half before Denver finally got on the board. Back-to-back threes by Chandler and Harris put the Nuggets on top, but just for a minute. Cousins dominated the third quarter and no one on the Nuggets could stop him as he attacked the paint with force and hit outside shots;. Plumlee picked up his fifth foul trying to do it. Even with Cousins on the bench the last three or so minutes of the third the Nuggets couldn’t take advantage as Holiday and Darius Miller helped New Orleans push the lead to six.
Malik Beasley hit a three to start off the fourth quarter, but that’s about the only good thing that happened. The Pelicans simply took over, going on a 13-0 run at one point to push the game out of reach. Denver was only outscored by three points in the fourth but couldn’t do enough to weather the storm. Final score, New Orleans 123, Denver 114.
Game Notes and Observations
- The switch to a three-guard starting lineup was a good one for the first six minutes of the game as it helped spread the floor on offense and led to plenty of transition buckets. Wilson Chandler looked (a little) more comfortable at the four but is still rusty from sitting out those few games. He would benefit greatly from getting a lot more burn as a stretch four with Millsap out for an extended period of time.
- Gary Harris had a phenomenal game on both ends of the floor. He hit some big shots (though less efficiently than usual) and was pesky on defense. He was credited with two steals, but it seems like he had a hand in many more than that.
- To the surprise of no one DeMarcus Cousins got his tonight, finishing with 40 points, 22 rebounds, and four blocks. He only had four points in the first quarter, and when he got going later in the game Denver simply couldn’t stop him. Plumlee fouled out and Faried picked up five of his own as Cousins was rewarded with 21 free throws tonight. Certainly the Nuggets missed Paul Millsap tonight.
- Emmanuel Mudiay’s shot is looking good, but don’t be deceived by his 17 points. Mudiay finished -18 on the night and continues to be a common denominator for the bench unit that gives up leads over and over again. Mudiay’s 27 minutes, well above his season average, seemed a little much tonight, especially with Jamal Murray looking a lot more poised the past few games.
- On tap: Nikola Vucevic, Myles Turner, Andre Drummond. Come back soon, Joker.