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Preview: Nuggets host Pelicans

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Denver plays New Orleans for the third time in the last 7 games. Thanks schedule makers!

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are not yet eliminated from the playoffs, but it’s close.

In this long, grinding slog toward the last lottery slot, Denver once again faces the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that barely existed for them for the first 5 months of the season but who they’ll have faced three times in seven games after tonight. Denver would have to have a small miracle in order to make the playoffs, but after seeing New Orleans and the Houston Rockets 6 times in their last 11 games, plus slotting in a game for many of the marbles against Portland (spoiler: Denver lost most of its marbles that night) this stretch run has been valuable experience and playoff-like atmosphere anyway.

Let’s hope for a playoff-intensity crowd and a good game tonight for Denver’s young players as they try to keep hope alive for the playoffs while reminding the town that the best is yet to come.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (37-41) vs New Orleans Pelicans (33-45)

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

When: 7:00 PM MST

How to watch: Altitude

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Position Nuggets Pelicans Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Jrue Holiday Pelicans
SG Gary Harris Tim Frazier Nuggets
SF Danilo Gallinari Solomon Hill Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Anthony Davis Pelicans
C Nikola Jokic DeMarcus Cousins even
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Juancho Hernangomez, Darrell Arthur, Mason Plumlee Quinn Cook, E'Twaun Moore, Jordan Crawford, Dante Cunningham Even

Injury Report: Jameer Nelson - **UPDATE** OUT (calf), Kenneth Faried - questionable (back), Will Barton - out (foot), Darrell Arthur - probable (knee), DeMarcus Cousins - questionable (Achilles tendonitis), Omer Asik - out (illness), Quincy Pondexter - out (knee)

Three thoughts:

- There’s not much left to say about the Pelicans as they face Denver. We’ve seen this game before. If Denver doesn’t show up for it the Pelicans can embarrass Denver. If the Nuggets remember to come out and play the game will likely be high-scoring and exciting. No matter what, the big men of the Pelicans constantly destroy Denver like the Steiner Brothers facing some nameless jobbers. Denver is going to have to solve their issues with that front court at some time, but even if Cousins doesn’t play, Anthony Davis is completely capable of going off for 40/15 in this game. Perhaps New Orleans helps Denver out and keeps AD’s minutes low to help protect him from injury down the stretch - but I wouldn’t count on it.

- I still care more about how the young Nuggets play than whether the older Nuggets can inch Denver toward the playoffs. And I wouldn’t exactly say the more veteran Nuggets have had better luck in finishing games. The vets can miss free throws and take terrible shots down the stretch just as easily. I would like to see Malone continue to give plenty of minutes to the young guys, especially as Jameer Nelson re-injured his calf against the Rockets and was not at 100%. Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray have shown they can handle those duties and putting a still-injured PG on the floor isn’t necessary. Jameer has been the best and steadiest Denver PG this season, but that doesn’t make him the best choice tonight. We’ll see what lineup Malone decides to throw out there with the health situation and matchups tonight.

**UPDATE** Jameer is out tonight per Chris Dempsey. The back court youth train will be full steam ahead.

- It’d be nice to reward Pepsi Center attendees with a good game. Denver is last in the league in raw home attendance (I believe they are third-worst in percentage of capacity). For much of the year the Nuggets had trouble convincing Denver they existed, much less that they had a fun team to watch. To be honest, the early-season Nuggets weren’t all that much fun and weren’t that good at home. But with 21 home wins they have already secured a winning home record, and this brand of Denver basketball fits in with the historical Nuggets squads.

Spending the last home games reminding Denver to come back out and watch this squad play this way for the entire 41 Pepsi Center engagements next year doesn’t quite make up for missing the playoffs, but it’s still worthwhile. Attendance is a trailing indicator of a team’s watchability, so finishing on the right note matters for more than just coach Michael Malone’s ulcer watch. Fan support will matter when the playoff Nuggets finally re-emerge. Short of that small miracle that won’t be this year, but tonight is chance to keep that flame alive.

Go get em, Nuggets.