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Recap: Denver Nuggets get lead early, but falter down the stretch and lose 120-112 to New Orleans Pelicans

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

The Denver Nuggets were looking for some revenge after dropping just their fifth game at home on Thursday. In their way was a struggling New Orleans Pelicans team who were on the second night of a back to back. The Nuggets jumped out to a big lead early but Nikola Jokic was plagued by foul trouble all night, Julius Randle got whatever he wanted on offense, Frank Jackson played lights out and the Pelicans hand the Nuggets their second straight loss at home. Final score New Orleans 120, Denver 112.

The game started with a fast past which the Nuggets were happy to play. They broke out to an early 11-3 lead. Jahlil Okafor responded with some work inside and picked up two quick fouls on Jokic, sending him to the bench. Denver didn’t allow it to slow them down though, they kept the pace high and kept growing the lead. New Orleans took a timeout and tightened up the defense but the Nuggets were hot from the three point line and able to maintain a double-digit lead. The Nuggets bench checked in and maintained the torrid pace. Denver’s lead continued to grow as the quarter was drawing to a close but a strong final minute by the Pelicans got Denver’s lead down to a dozen.

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

Jokic was back in to start the second quarter and immediately picked up a third foul. He stayed in the game though. Plumlee was still in as well and was feasting in the paint off pocket passes. Isaiah Thomas was finding easy buckets at the basket as well. The Pelicans got on a run behind their three point shooting (or in the case of Darius Miller, getting fouled on three point shooting) to pull the lead back down down to ten and force a Denver timeout. The game started to get sloppy, Plumlee appeared to forget the rules regarding goaltending but the Nuggets maintained their lead. Randle was bullying Paul Millsap and stretching the floor as well, he pounded his way to a lay-up with about three minutes to go in the half to get the Nuggets lead back below ten. The Pelicans continued to have success from the three point line and kept chipping away at the lead meanwhile the Nuggets had gone cold. Randle gave the Nuggets everything they could handle, he powered his way to two free throws with three seconds left to trim the lead to four going into the locker room.

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

The Nuggets opened the second half with a focus to get the ball to Jokic who had only played six minutes because of foul trouble. Behind him and some cold Pelicans shooting the Nuggets pushed the lead back to ten. Unfortunately, Jokic picked up a poor foul on a moving screen and once again had to go back to the bench. New Orleans found their legs, the Nuggets frustration resulted in technicals for Millsap and Malone, and just like that the Pelicans trailed by just three. Denver struggled to take care of the basketball, at one point they had turnovers on three straight possessions. Jrue Holiday sunk a layup at the seven minute mark and the Pels had regained the lead. That seemed to spark something in the Nuggets and they started to get back to running up and down the floor. Will Barton had a pretty behind the back pass to Plumlee to get the Nuggets back up by four then the Pelicans pushed back with Randle and Cheick Diallo in the paint to swing the lead to five in favor of New Orleans. IT was unable to hit a scoop layup at the buzzer and the Nuggets trailed by three after three.

The Pelicans opened the fourth quarter with a pair of threes and a bucket by Okafor to push the lead up to eight, but Jokic was back in and doing work down low. Still the Nuggets looked flat and the Pelicans started to smell blood in the water. Kenrich Williams finished at the rim to put New Orleans up by eight with just under ten minutes to go and forced coach Malone to take a timeout. Jokic was dictating the offense for Denver, but they were ice cold from three point land and the Pelicans were hitting their long distance shots. Denver was struggling across the board with the exception of Jokic and it was clear that if they were going to win it would be because he willed them there. He hit a layup with two and a half to go to trim the lead to six but then the Nuggets blew a golden opportunity when Millsap got fouled on a three but missed all three shots. With under a minute to go Jokic went one for two from the line to trim it to five points and the Nuggets got a stop but Gary Harris turned it over, the refs blew an out-of-bounds call and then Holiday got an and-one on the other end to seal it. Nuggets lose their second game in a row.