The Denver Nuggets kicked off a three game road trip looking to carry the momentum from their blow out win against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday but in their way stood the resurgent New Orleans Pelicans. Despite the Pelicans being the team on the back to back, it was the Nuggets who came out looking sluggish and off a step. Their inability to protect the rim and the overall lack of defense would spoil a great start by their offense as the Pelicans overwhelmed Denver across 48 minutes. They got big performances from Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle to send the Nuggets to their fifth loss in six games. Pelicans win 125-115.

Jokic and Davis didn’t wait to get the offense rolling on both ends. If they weren’t scoring themselves they were setting up their teammates for easy baskets. Denver got a slim lead early on but were unable to contain the Pelicans at the perimeter which kept New Orleans close. Jokic abused the Pelicans inside, he was getting easy looks at the basket and picking up fouls as well. The only thing that slowed him down was a moment when he stepped on a wet spot on the baseline and tweaked his leg. Denver would call a timeout to let Jokic walk it off and he would remain in the game. Denver built a small lead but just didn’t quite have the execution to really pull away early. The Nuggets bench checked in and uncharacteristically did not come out with energy. New Orleans used that to spark a 9-0 run. After one quarter it was a high scoring game with New Orleans up by two.

The Nuggets bench struggled to find scoring at the start of the second quarter. The one Nuggets starter on the floor, Jamal Murray, quickly got into foul trouble. That may have been a blessing in disguise as coach Malone was forced to go back to Gary Harris who came in and immediately his a pair of threes. Denver’s bench finally found their momentum behind Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee who pushed the pace to flip the script and get the Nuggets out in front by four. Davis checked back in to stem the tide for New Orleans and flip the lead back the other way. The Pelicans kept a slim lead when the game got a bit testy, first coach Malone picked up a technical foul and then immediately after assistant coach David Adelman picked up a technical as well. The Nuggets were struggling to defend the Pelicans but luckily got enough offense from the three point line to at least keep pace. About a minute before the half Davis checked out and headed back to the locker room. Despite the Pelicans getting anything they wanted the Nuggets trailed by just three points at the half.

Davis was back on the court to start the second half and the defense on both ends had noticeably tightened up. Juancho Hernangomez did the majority of the scoring for Denver’s starters but their defense started to slip as the quarter progressed and New Orleans started building their lead once again. Denver’s starters couldn’t hit their shots meanwhile Julius Randle was providing the energy for the Pelicans. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was the Nuggets who were the team on the second night of a back to back with the way they were settling for jumpshots. The Nuggets also weren’t providing any resistance on the defensive end. Randle continued to abuse them, including a posterizing dunk where he was allowed to practically walk to the rim. The Pelicans rode big third quarter performances from Randle and Davis to push their lead out to thirteen after three.

Denver’s bench kept much of the same going as the fourth quarter opened. They would convert just enough baskets to keep the team in the game but the defense was lacking and they missed too many jumpers to make any real headway on the Pelicans. The Nuggets offered pretty much nothing in the way of rim protection and after Holiday drove effortlessly to the rim coach Malone was forced to take a timeout because the Pelicans lead had grown to thirteen as part of an 8-0 run. The Nuggets just didn’t seem to want to make any adjustment on offense. The hot shooting of the first quarter had long since left but they weren’t adjusting and taking the ball to the hoop. Harris and Hernangomez were the only players who were shooting with consistency which prevented the game from becoming a complete laugher but as the fourth quarter turned towards the final minutes Denver still trailed by double digits. Davis decided to take over in the waning minutes to push him to back to back 40 point performances while the Nuggets finally relented to the loss.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Anthony Davis

The two star big men lived up to the hype tonight , at least early on. Jokic exploded for a massive first quarter where he scored 18 points but Davis was a consistent force scoring and passing throughout the game. Both guys fought through some bumps and bruises on their way to big nights. Jokic would flirt with a triple double but he cooled off considerably after the first quarter. Davis was the one who got the W because he brought it all night long and lived at the free throw line where he converted at an incredibly high rate (20 of 21). Like most teams, Denver struggled to contain the Brow whether that was keeping him away from the rim or not closing out on him enough on his jumpers. Denver’s defense has taken a major step back these past few weeks, so when they came across a superstar like Davis the damage was severe.

Key thing I noticed: Randle pretty much carried the bench for New Orleans

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The Nuggets have pretty much been able to count on their bench not only holding serve, but excelling when they are on the floor. Night in and night out the Nugget reserves have helped either build a lead or cut in to a deficit but tonight the Pelicans bench was equally as potent and that was essentially because of one guy. Denver still got big play out of guys like Morris, Plumlee and Lyles but the Pelicans have one of the best bench players out there in Randle. He gave the Nuggets trouble all night long which has generally been the case during Randle’s entire career. His play was huge because on the back to back it helped to give Davis and Nikola Mirotic some key rest without giving away the lead.

Closing thought: just a lousy effort

The energy tonight was awful. I wrote before the game that this was a game where the Nuggets would have as good of a chance as they are going to get to steal a game from a conference rival on their home court and instead of taking advantage of it they settled for a ho-hum loss. I get that Denver started out hot from the field so you could see a scenario where they try to out score New Orleans by simply outlasting them over four quarters. The Nuggets didn’t bring the effort to get that accomplished though. These are the type of games that can come back to haunt you at the end of the year when tie breakers come into play, hopefully Denver’s lackadaisical approach to this game doesn’t do just that.