Early on against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Denver Nuggets were getting ran by. The Pelicans are one of the fastest-paced teams in the NBA, and Nuggets weren’t ready for that on the defensive end of the floor. It didn’t take long for the Pelicans to hit a few 3-point shots and get out to a 17-13 lead before head coach Michael Malone called a timeout.
Late in the first quarter, Nuggets fans got what they’ve been frothing at the mouth for since last season. 13th overall pick Michael Porter Jr. checked into the game. With starting small forward Will Barton (toe) out with an injury, Malone started Torrey Craig, and Porter was the next man up at the small forward spot. With about a minute left on the clock, he drove right by Josh Hart to the bucket for his first NBA points.
Michael Porter Jr.’s first regular season basket.— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) November 1, 2019
What hopes for be the first of many. pic.twitter.com/dsIgF9XptV
Behind second-year guard Frank Jackson’s 10 points, the Pelicans were able to take a 32-30 lead into the second quarter. Behind missed shots and a pair of turnovers, the Nuggets offense was ice cold, and the Pelicans were putting on a passing clinic on the other end of the floor. When New Orleans got a rebound or passed the ball in, they were off and running, and the Nuggets weren’t adjusting to keep up with it.
Between the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, the Pelicans went on a 10-0 run before a Monte Morris bucket stopped the bleeding. Porter got a couple of open looks at 3-point shots, but he wasn’t able to make them fall which is concerning but expected with his rust. Behind a big block by Mason Plumlee, the offense got some momentum, and they eventually cut the lead to three before a Pelicans timeout.
Coming out of that timeout, the Pelicans got back to what was working which was running the ball up the floor. Behind their transition play and impressive 3-point shooting, 7-16 from distance midway through the second quarter, they were steadily building their lead. They were also working to exploit Brandon Ingram on Paul Millsap, who is one of the defenders we don’t usually see get taken to work.
The Nuggets’ starters came in for the final five minutes, but they were never able to build a consistent run against the Pelicans who consistently maintained at least a small lead throughout that stretch. Millsap also received his third foul during that stretch, but Jerami Grant was able to fill in for him on offense. At the end of the first half, the Nuggets trailed the Pelicans 56-52, although they should have been thrilled with that after allowing New Orleans to shoot 15 free throws and over 40 percent on 3-point shots.
Coming out of the break, we saw more of the same. The Pelicans were moving the ball and getting open looks that were falling. The Nuggets just weren’t able to convert their looks before they turned the ball over. A steady lead was starting to grow when Malone was forced to call another timeout to try and get his team on track.
The Pelicans’ ball movement was causing issues for Denver because they were being forced to zip around the floor which wore them out before open shots were generated for New Orleans. This left them gassed on the offensive end of the floor where the Pelicans’ athleticism was creating suffocating defense. New Orleans’ continued to build their lead that eventually ballooned to 12 midway through the third quarter.
Denver struggled to find a matchup for Ingram who continued to impose his will on Denver, especially when they switched a smaller defender onto him. Craig and Grant were supposed to be those guys, but, with the threats that New Orleans had spaced around the floor, there wasn’t a lot of room for help defense to come their way if they were getting beat.
After the starters left the floor, the bench unit showed energy, but they weren’t able to do much with it. They still weren’t hitting shots, and the Pelicans were moving the ball and getting baskets. They eventually took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter as they were heading for their first win.
Denver’s bench was able to force some misses that they turned into points on the other end of the floor, and they eventually cut the lead to just six. Following a timeout, the Nuggets bench unit allowed the bleeding to continue as the lead grew back up to 14 before the majority of the starters returned to the floor.
Every time Denver would get something going in their favor, New Orleans would counter right back with a bucket or two of their own. The Pelicans had multiple runs throughout the game, and they eventually stretched the lead to 19 a little under halfway through the fourth quarter. The Nuggets’ offense remained dormant for the majority of the game, which they can’t afford to do when their defense isn’t shutting opponents down.
After the lead got up to 19, Malone pulled his starters to put in the reserves rather than risk an injury, and the game continued to get out of hand. The Pelicans’ impressive shooting from 3-point range was important to note, but, what was more surprising, was the Nuggets’ severe lack of shooting. They shot worse than 25 percent from 3-point range for the vast majority of this game.
On the second night of a back-to-back against a young team on the road, the Nuggets performed exactly how you would have expected. This was different. Better games are ahead, but this is a game that they’ll likely be looking to leave in the past as quick as they can with the issues they had throughout the game.
Points: Michael Porter Jr. - 15
Rebounds: Mason Plumlee - 7
Assists: Monte Morris - 7