The Denver Nuggets are looking to hit the reset button as they host the New Orleans Pelicans tonight. Following a five-game winning streak, the Nuggets lost two in a row against their division opponents. The Nuggets move to 4-8 within the division, and although this is not a divisional matchup, they need to continue to defeat the teams they should beat. Despite their 19-32 record, the Pelicans are only 1.5 games out of the 10th seed for a play-in spot in the playoffs. This is a competitive team as we have seen in previous matchups. In the first game, New Orleans took Denver into overtime, and although the second matchup was a double-digit Denver victory, the game was closer than the score appeared.
The Nuggets hope to return their superstar Nikola Jokic as he was not listed on the injury report on Thursday. Jokic has played both games against the Pelicans, recording a triple-double in each outing. I would not put it past him to register a third straight triple-double against this team, but as we know, the win is the essential aspect tonight. The Nuggets are one game from surpassing the 5th seeded Dallas Mavericks because the Mavs hold the tiebreaker between the two teams. They are also three games from exceeding the 4th seeded Utah Jazz, so if the Nuggets can go on a roll before the All-Star break, they could position themselves at the 4th seed.
Who: Denver Nuggets (28-23, 13-9 home) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (19-32, 8-19 away)
When: 7:00 PM MT
Where: Ball Arena
How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio
Rival Blog: The Bird Writes
Expected Starting Lineups:
NO: PG Devonte’ Graham, SG Brandon Ingram, SF Herbert Jones, PF Jaxson Hayes, C Jonas Valanciunas
DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic
Injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (out), Josh Hart (day to day), Willy Hernangomez (out), Garrett Temple (out), Kira Lewis Jr. (out)
Protect the offensive glass
In every game versus the Pelicans this season, they have destroyed the Nuggets with offensive rebounding. In both games, they outrebounded the Nuggets on the offensive glass by five, which assisted their efficiency in the paint. The Pelicans are the 4th best offensive rebounding team with about 12 a game on the season. After Jokic sat out the last game against the Jazz, he is hopeful to return tonight, which should help them in the rebounding department. With that being said, Jokic has played in both games against the Pelicans and they still dominated the offensive glass, so it is not just up to Joker. He and the Nuggets will need their bigs to create effective box-outs and timely rebounds from their guards.
Take care of the basketball
Turnovers have been a significant issue for Denver lately. They rank 28th in the NBA in turnovers in their last six games with nearly 16 per game. In their previous matchup with the Pelicans, they surrendered 21 turnovers, which turned into 22 points. In both games versus the Pelicans, Denver’s turnovers helped make the game closer than it should have been. Nikola Jokic has to take some responsibility for that as well because in his last game, he gave up five turnovers in the first half versus Minnesota. It’s always a collective effort when taking care of the basketball. On the season, the Nuggets are 16th in the league in turnovers while the Pelicans are 21st, so the Pelicans will turn it over as well. Denver’s job is not to beat themselves tonight.
Win the paint battle
Even when the Nuggets struggle or succeed from three, I feel like this category is a major factor in their losses. Utah outscored them 64-42 in the paint in a four-point loss versus the Jazz on Wednesday. That disparity is often too much to come back from as the Nuggets continue to learn that lesson. Although the separation in that category has not been as large against the Pelicans, New Orleans still won the paint battle in each matchup. Their game plan against the Nuggets has clearly been to dominate the paint offensively, so the Nuggets will need to crack that code tonight. Offensive rebounding and second-chance points can loom large in the paint. The Pelicans are 5th in the NBA in 2nd chance points with 14.4 per game, and they also score about 46 points per game in the paint. The Nuggets score three more points in the paint per game than the Pelicans throughout the season, so they might need to rekindle that identity tonight.