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Preview: Denver Nuggets head out on the road with the first stop at the New Orleans Pelicans

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Can Denver get streaking in the right direction again?

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

The Denver Nuggets home stand didn’t go how they wanted it to. After a terrific start to the season, the Nuggets dropped three of four at home as part of a four game losing streak to fall to 10-5 overall on the year. Now heading back out on the road, Denver first will visit the New Orleans Pelicans who likewise cooled after a fast start. The Nuggets are looking to get back streaking in the right direction, but despite their struggles the Pelicans will offer a significant challenge

New Orleans’ downswing can be attributed chiefly to the fact that their superstar forward, Anthony Davis, has missed time due to injury. That was true when the Pelicans visited the Nuggets two weeks ago. The Nuggets handled the Davis-less Pels, but with a strong supporting cast like point guard Jrue Holiday and big man tandem Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle the Pelicans nearly pulled off the upset. With Davis now back in the fold, the New Orleans has won four of their last five, including their latest win against the New York Knicks which was highlighted by Davis’ 43 points and 17 rebounds.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (10-5) at New Orleans Pelicans (8-7)

When: 5:00 PM MST

Where: Smoothie King Arena, New Orleans LA

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the Altitude NOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Pelicans Advantage
Position Nuggets Pelicans Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Jrue Holiday Even
SG Gary Harris E'Twaun Moore Even
SF Juancho Hernangomez Wesley Johnson Even
PF Paul Millsap Nikola Miortic Even
C Nikola Jokic Anthony Davis Even
Bench Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, Mason Plumlee, Monte Morris, Torrey Craig Julius Randle, Darius Miller, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo , Tim Frazier Nuggets

Injured players: Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Will Barton - out (groin), Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), Elfrid Payton - game time decision (finger).

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Anthony Davis

New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Shout out to Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns because they are outstanding players, but this is the matchup between the best two big men in the Western Conference. Davis is averaging twenty-six points and thirteen rebounds to go with nearly three blocks a game. He’s had a double-double in all but two of the games he’s played in this year. He is an absolute beast on both ends of the court and a difficult matchup for Bill Russell, let alone Nikola. Jokic is a handful to deal with himself this season though and if the game against the Atlanta Hawks was any indication, the Nuggets are now fully invested in running pretty much everything through Jokic on offense. Joker has been much improved on the defensive end as well, showing much better play in the pick and roll and using his basketball IQ and quick hands to average a steal and a half a game. Whichever one of these two players gets the better of the other is likely going to be the one to lead his team to victory.

Key thing to watch for: Ball pressure from the back court

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

New Orleans was one of the first teams to attack the Nuggets by applying a lot of ball pressure on Jamal Murray through Holiday. With Payton unlikely to go after breaking his finger last night, there’s a good chance that Murray will find Holiday as his primary defender throughout the game. Murray had three turnovers in the last matchup between these two teams so its certainly something to watch for. I’ll be curious to see how much more coach Malone might lean on Monte Morris in a game like this. With ball security paramount, there’s no better guy at the point than Morris. I won’t be surprised if we see some three guard lineups with Murray off ball while on the court with Monte.

Closing thought: prime chance to steal one

Yes, the Nuggets are on the road, and yes, the Pelicans are better than their record indicates, but if ever there was a prime chance to steal a game against a quality opponent on their court, this is it. The Pelicans played an emotional game last night against the Knicks that took them until late in the fourth to finally pull away. Granted, this isn’t a back to back that involves travel but Payton’s injury also plays a factor here. The Pelicans have struggled mightily at the point without Payton, who was just returning from injury, so if they are without him then the Nuggets have a major advantage with Morris, arguably the best backup point guard in the league right now (yep, going there). Denver just needs to keep pace with the high powered starting lineup of the Pelicans and lean on their bench, as they have all season, to give them the edge against some tired legs late in the game.