The Denver Nuggets made a couple of key trades for their future yesterday, adding JaVale McGee in one move and both Aaron Gordon and Gary Clark in another. Tonight is about the players they already had, however, as the Nuggets suit up without Gary Harris, RJ Hampton and Isaiah Hartenstein as they face the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans will likely be without Lonzo Ball but otherwise are on a 3-game home winning streak and the Nuggets could not muster the effort against Toronto that was necessary to win. Denver has just seen several friends just walk out the door, including Harris who is a veteran leader of this club and was its longest-tenured member. Whether Denver can take its internal turmoil over the new additions and departures and inflict that turmoil on New Orleans is what this night is all about: the next step forward.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (26-18, 14-9 away) vs New Orleans Pelicans (19-24, 13-10 home)

When: 6:00 p.m. MST

Where: Smoothie King Center

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Injury Report: Monte Morris – out, Greg Whittington – out, JaVale McGee – doubtful (trade has to clear medicals), Aaron Gordon – doubtful (trade has to clear medicals), Gary Clark – doubtful (trade has to clear medicals); Lonzo Ball – doubtful, James Johnson – doubtful (trade has to clear medicals), Wes Iwundu – doubtful (trade has to clear medicals)

Three Things to Watch

  • Playing with heavy hearts. Gary Harris was in many ways Jamal Murray’s big brother, the guy who showed him the ropes of the NBA and was his constant companion, on-court and off. When your best friend leaves there will be aftershocks, and even though Gary had missed most of two dozen games before leaving he was still there at practice and at games. RJ Hampton and Isaiah Hartenstein were new this year, but both men had made connections and gotten playing time, and the Nuggets now need to adjust.

It’s unlikely that the new additions suit up tonight – there is travel to deal with and medicals to clear for several players, and the first night after a trade is rarely a playing night for new arrivals. So tonight is about the players that were already here and how they refocus for a road win they need to keep pace in the West. Focusing has never been an issue for Murray, and I expect him to come out ready to play tonight.

  • Nikola Jokic setting the tone. The Pelicans are an interesting matchup for Denver, having already defeated the Nuggets in the first game they played this season. Denver doesn’t really have anyone to match up with Zion Williamson’s size and athleticism, while New Orleans doesn’t have the players or scheme to really handcuff Nikola Jokic’s myriad talents. I would be surprised if this is a defensive battle, so Denver will need to score, and have its Big Three really lean into the offensive aspects of their games. That includes all three main aspects of Jokic’s: scoring, rebounding and passing. Look for another near-triple-double from Nikola to pace Denver.
  • Ingram vs. MPJ. This is probably the win-or-lose battle for Denver. Ingram is not big enough to really challenge Michael Porter Jr. defensively, but MPJ will need to keep up with the scoring chops that Brandon Ingram has because at 24+ points a game over his last 10, Ingram really is lighting it up. This game is really a big showcase for Denver just having more firepower and treating New Orleans like a little brother, but that requires Porter to get up shots and crash the boards to limit the Pelicans getting those second chance points.

Prediction: 117-108, Denver.