Five takeaways from Denver’s victory over New Orleans

Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center.
Oct 29, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris (14) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have began the 2018-19 season on a four-game winning streak at the Pepsi Center. With a 5-1 record, Denver currently sits atop the Northwest Division and just a game behind the Golden Satate Warriors for first place in the Western Conference.

It hasn’t always been pretty, as the Nuggets almost blew a double-digit second-half lead on Monday night, but a win is still a win. The New Orleans Pelicans certainly showed some grit, but the Nuggets still found a way to get it done to stay undefeated at home.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the five takeaways from the Nuggets victory over the Pelicans.

Gary Harris continues to play well in the clutch 

It comes as no surprise, but Gary Harris continues to perform well in big moments for the Nuggets. His two steals in the closing moments of the fourth quarter helped seal the game for Denver with defense proving to be the recipe for success yet again.

Harris complimented his solid defense with 23 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and 1-3 from behind the three-point line. He also did a solid job getting his teammates involved dishing out six assists while also finding a way to haul in six rebounds.

“He’s a gamer and obviously he is our key two-way player,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said postgame on Harris’ performance. “He is going to take the challenge to guard every night and he is going to take the onus on himself to make some big plays on the offensive end. He did that.”

The ability Harris possesses on both ends of the floor is huge for this Nuggets roster and it is something that constantly shows up on a nightly basis. The steadiness he brings each night has been gigantic in the Nuggets success so far this season and its something Harris doesn’t seem to be letting up on any time soon.

Nikola Jokic posts his fifth-straight double-double

For the fifth-straight game, Jokic posted a double-double and fell just one rebound shy of his second triple-double of the season. Jokic’s first four double-double’s came from points and rebounds, but against the Pelicans it was a little more unconventional being that he collected it with points and assists instead. Jokic finished the night with 12 points on 3-8 shooting from the field to go along with his 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Jokic didn’t just affect the game offensively though, but he also chipped in two blocks on the defensive end of the floor. No block was bigger than the one he had on Jrue Holiday in the third quarter. He swatted his shot into the first row of seats at the Pepsi Center.

With Jokic playing well on both ends of the floor, it speaks volumes to the Nuggets mantra of turning defense into offense. Jokic’s stat line is proof of that as he also finished with the Nuggets second best +/- rating finishing with a +5.

If Jokic continues to impact the game positively on both ends of the floor, it is only going to continue the success for himself as well as the Nuggets. Not having to go against Anthony Davis certainly helped, but Jokic was still able to take advantage of the matchups that presented themselves against Jhalil Okafor and Julius Randle. The matchups get even better for Jokic moving forward as Denver faces off against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday and the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday.

Malik Beasley comes up big for the Nuggets 

Coming into tonight, Beasley was averaging just 12.2 minutes per game and was coming off a game where he played only 11 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers. Beasley was called into action against the Pelicans though, playing a season-high 31 minutes with a lot of that time coming in the second half.

Beasley poured in 12 points on 5-9 from the field and 2-6 from behind the three-point line. Five of those points came in the games final three minutes when Beasley hit a big three to give the Nuggets a two-possession lead in the games closing minutes.

Beasley subbed in for Torrey Craig around the 10-minute mark of the third quarter and hardly came out after that. His scoring totals were just the beginning as he also posted six rebounds and two assists. Even though he didn’t finish with any steals or blocks, Beasley was a force to be reckoned with defensively as he was constantly causing pressure on the Pelicans offense.

“Malik was great… defensive discipline, multiple effort, flying around contesting shots, and he made some big baskets for us,” Malone said on Beasley’s play. “Once they took that 18-point lead and cut it all the way down, Malik was a big part of us winning that game. So, very happy for him and whether it’s Torrey, Juancho, or Malik, those guys have to be ready to play.”

Malone continued that it will be a feel thing for which one of those players plays more or less on a nightly basis, but there’s no doubt it was Beasley on Monday night. Even though its still an open competition between those three players, if Beasley continues to play the way he’s playing, it will be hard to keep him off the court moving forward.

Trey Lyles plays well off the bench

Coming into the game, Lyles was in a bit of a slump offensively, but the pendulum finally started to swing in his favor on Monday night. He finished with 17 points and posted his highest scoring total of the season. He was Denver’s leading scorer off the bench against New Orleans. Lyles shot 6-14 from the field and was a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line in his 21 minutes of action.

Even though his scoring totals were up, Lyles still struggled to shoot the ball from three finishing the night just 1-6 from distance. Lyles is now averaging just 8.3 percent from distance this season and has combined to shoot just 2-18, but he has generated solid looks from distance. The shots just have not fallen through the Nuggets first six games.

If Lyles continues to get good looks, those threes could finally start to fall which will only improve his offensive game moving forward. Still, 17 points off the bench was huge in the Nuggets victory on Monday, and it is something the second unit could use a lot more of moving forward.

Nuggets blow a double-digit second-half lead, but still find a way to win 

The biggest takeaway here is what the Nuggets did not allow to happen. In years prior, this might have been a game Denver lost, but on Monday they showed a resiliency to win even after blowing an 18-point lead.

“18-point game; they cut it all the way down to two and Nikola Mirotic has a naked look to take the lead,” Malone said on the Nuggets fourth quarter struggles. “We came out of a timeout, I think we got two or three stops in a row — which we were able to generate offense from our defense, which is when we are at our best. Obviously, tonight we didn’t have the amount of examples we would have liked in that regard, but I think our guys understood we let them back into the game, we’re going to have to win this game, and we’re going to win it with defensive stops, offensive execution, and making free-throws and we were able to do that.”

Certainly, a grind-it-out victory for the Nuggets, who struggled to score the ball early with just 20 first-quarter points. The offense and defense came to life when it mattered most though and the Nuggets still found a way to walk away Monday night with a victory.

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