The Denver Nuggets (34-16) are in action and back in town for a matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans (26-25) on the docket for tonight. The Nuggets are home for a three-game homestand after traveling east to take on some tough opponents. They enter tonight’s game on a two-game losing streak, while New Orleans have lost eight straight, and they’re 3-13 over their last 16 games. 

For the Nuggets, they’ve stumbled over the last week and a half, but, when your superstar center in Nikola Jokic misses three of your last five games, that’s bound to happen. They still hold a two-game lead in the Western Conference, and they’re a sparkling 22-4 at home with their last full-strength home loss coming back on November 22nd against the Detroit Pistons.

After leading the Western Conference and looking like one of the league’s best teams in December, the Pelicans saw their young star in Zion Williamson go down with a hamstring injury, and they haven’t been able to bounce back since. Zion last played on January 2nd, and they’re 3-11 since his absence. However, on the year, they’re 8-13 in games that he’s missed. They’re in the middle of a skid that is being caused by more than just the absence of Zion. 

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (34-16, 22-4 home) vs New Orleans Pelicans (26-25, 9-16 away)

When: 8:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. TNT. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Expected Starting Lineups:

NOP: PG CJ McCollum, SG Brandon Ingram, SF Trey Murphy, PF Herbert Jones, C Jonas Valanciunas

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Bruce Brown, SF Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Collin Gillespie (leg) OUT, Jamal Murray (knee) QUESTIONABLE, Jack White (thigh) OUT, Dyson Daniels (ankle) OUT, E.J. Liddell (knee) OUT, Zion Williamson (hamstring) OUT

Three Things to Watch

Containing CJ McCollum

In two games against the Nuggets this season, CJ McCollum has struggled compared to his normal standards. He’s 12-of-33 from the floor, including 0-of-10 from 3-point range. Despite those woes, the Pelicans are 1-1 in the season series, and they lost by just one in their matchup last week. They have to keep the lid on him because he can keep his team in a game by himself when he gets hot.

Aggressive Jokic

In Saturday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Jokic took just 12 shots in the game. In the first half, he went 6-of-7 from the floor compared to just 2-of-5 in the second half. He’s averaging 28.5 points per game against the Pelicans this year, while shooting 70.6 percent from the field. When Jokic is aggressive, the rest of the floor opens up for everyone else, and, against a team that allows the 10th-most points to opposing centers, Jokic can be aggressive early on in this matchup.

Guarding Brandon Ingram

In the previous two meetings between these teams, the Pelicans were playing without Brandon Ingram, who was rehabbing from an injury. Now, he’s back, and he hasn’t quite gotten his feet under himself yet. However, in his last two games against the Nuggets last year, Ingram averaged 30.5 points per game while shooting 68.2 percent from the floor. If he is able to see his shots fall early in the game, tonight could be the game he gets rolling again.