Pelicans fans are already starting to miss Anthony Davis, but the Nuggets certainly didn’t on a Wednesday night in Louisiana, taking advantage of the All-Star’s absence to secure a 105-99 win on the road.
Nikola Jokic had another triple-double, finishing with 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists, while Malik Beasley and Monte Morris combined for 44 points to help spark the Nuggets offense against a Pelicans squad that fought for 48 minutes.
Jokic got the game started with a midrange jumper, and Denver scored the first seven points in the game. Both teams went on a stretch where they did their best to not score, with the Nuggets making a point to not get into the paint for scoring chances. Malik Beasley was the first sub off the bench for the Nuggets, replacing Will Barton after the swingman picked up two fouls. The Pelicans were able to tie the score at 13 after a Nuggets turnover, going to Jahlil Okafor in the post to generate points. The Nuggets were able to get a couple stops, supporting a small run, and they kept battling in the paint to reclaim the lead. We got a weird lineup to close the quarter, with Goodwin running the point alongside Beasley, Craig, Lyles, and Plumlee. Lyles missed a 3-pointer on the final possession, but the Nuggets were able to take a 3-point lead into the next quarter.
Juancho missed a three-pointer early in the second quarter, the Nuggets eighth miss from distance in nine attempts. Lyles missed a 3-pointer too, and they continued to just badly miss from distance. They were able to score when they went inside, with Plumlee hooking in a shot, but Kenrich Williams made a 3-pointer and the score was tied again. The starters made their way back on the court with the team up just two, and they were able to increase their lead by degrees. The Pelicans forced a couple misses, and were able to grab the lead thanks to more work by Jahlil Okafor. The Nuggets continued to just continue to struggle to successfully shoot, allowing the Pelicans to hold onto the lead going into halftime. The last possession fittingly was disrupted by Jrue Holiday, and then Okafor swatted a layup attempt by Gary Harris to protect the Pelicans three point lead.
Will Barton got his first basket off the game in transition in the third quarter, taking advantage of Okafor’s slow jog back on defense to get to the rim and draw a foul on Jrue Holiday. The Pellies continued to double Jokic, but the other Nuggets players are watching instead of weaving, and the offense needed a boost. That boost came courtesy of a Jokic block, helping contribute to a shot clock violation, and the team woke up. The Nuggets were able to get into the bonus with over seven minutes left in the quarter, courtesy of a drive from Barton, who continues to look like he’s shaking off the rust more and more. Monte Morris gave Denver a nine-point lead with a triple in transition, and Alvin Gentry had to call timeout for New Orleans to discuss how his team could come out of halftime and play so poorly.
Gary Harris finally was able to knock in a 3-pointer, his first in seven attempts, and the Nuggets guard raised his hands to the sky in relief after seeing his shot fall. That shot falling helped give him the confidence to make his next 3-pointer, and we saw a nice Harris smile directed towards the bench as he ran back on defense. Harris missed his heat check 3-pointer badly, and former Denver Nuggets Summer League player Kenrich Williams answered with a jumper. Beasley continued his strong play, knocking in a triple, the Nuggets took an 11-point lead into the final frame.
The Nuggets went a long time without scoring to start the fourth quarter, letting the Pelicans slowly creep back into the game. New Orleans was targeting Lyles and Beasley in their halfcourt offense, taking advantage of two of the Nuggets bad defenders to get wide open shots. Beasley had the Nuggets first field goal of the quarter just pass the eight minute mark, making a 3-pointer, but Kenrich Williams answered with another 3-pointer, his fifth of the game. Jokic picked up a triple-double with an outlet pass to Beasley in transition, heaving the ball down the field like a football.
The Nuggets had a nice defensive possession, forcing Ian Clark into a turnover, with Monte Morris and Malik Beasley cashing in on the other end for an easy assist and layup.
Even when they don’t have it going, they can get it going. One of the themes of the Tim Connelly era of Nuggets basketball has been that he acquires players that can score. He values the ability to shoot the basketball, thinking that no matter what, he wants players that can put points on the scoreboard. It’s helped this season as they’ve dealt with injuries, because players have been able to step up and still score at a top-10 level in the league. The Nuggets could not shoot in the first half from the perimeter, but they were able to cash in on a couple in the second half, and Malik Beasley got hot, and look what happened. It’s nice to have a balanced roster that can get contributions from a different guy every night.
Let’s talk about Malik Beasley and Monte Morris. The Nuggets best two guards tonight were their usual reserves, and it wasn’t even close. Beasley was able to knock in a couple 3-pointers, and outside of a couple defensive communication breakdowns, was solid on defense. Morris did a good job controlling pace, they got into the paint, and most importantly, they didn’t have any turnovers. They played so well, it makes you wonder if the Nuggets need to give guys like Gary Harris an extended stretch of rest to allow him to get fully healthy. If only Isaiah Thomas was cleared to play — that would allow Denver to really rest their core players to help them be fresh for the final 25 games of the season after the All-Star break.
Is it possible to be bored by Jokic? Are we taking Jokic for granted? He just had an absurd triple-double, casually dominating a game against a clearly less talented opponent in Jahlil Okafor. His block in the third quarter helped spark the team’s rally to secure the win, and he was consistently able to conjure open shots for his teammates out of nothing. Even on a night when the offense wasn’t clicking, Jokic made it happen. He’s so good.
Next up? A home game on ESPN against the Houston Rockets. January was a good month for the Nuggets, here’s hoping they start February with a win.