Nuggets blow 19-point lead in home loss to Pelicans

Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) and forward Paul Millsap (4) defend as New Orleans Pelicans center Julius Randle (30) drives to the net as guard Jamal Murray (27) looks on in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Mar 2, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) and forward Paul Millsap (4) defend as New Orleans Pelicans center Julius Randle (30) drives to the net as guard Jamal Murray (27) looks on in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets suffered their second-straight home loss Saturday night in a 120-112 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans.

With the loss, Denver’s record now sits at 42-20, which moves them a game and a half behind Golden State for first place in the Western Conference.

Denver opened the game strong with their original starting five of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic for just the third time this season. Harris had been coming off the bench lately because of a minutes restriction, but Nuggets head coach Michael Malone inserted his two-guard back in the lineup on Saturday night as Denver’s starting five was officially back.

The Nuggets wasted no time as they began the game on an 11-3 run as everything was clicking early on. Denver ended up assisting on eight of their first nine made field goals as their lead was suddenly up to 12-points with 5:59 remaining in the first quarter. That same 12-point advantage is ultimately what Denver would lead by after one period as they took a 39-27 lead into quarter number two.

After struggling to score in their last game against Utah, the Nuggets seemed to have found their rhythm offensively as they shot 54 percent from the field in the first quarter. Denver also shot a scorching 6-of-9 from three-point range as their offense was flying high going into the second quarter.

In quarter number two, the Nuggets did a lot of the same as they scored the ball at a pace that New Orleans had no way of keeping up with. Denver was scoring in more ways than one as they had nine different players that made a field goal in the first half. Everything was going according to plan for Denver, until Jokic and Mason Plumlee both got into first half foul trouble, which allowed New Orleans to make a late second quarter run.

New Orleans’ solid close to the first half allowed them to cut Denver’s lead to four-points as the Nuggets took a 71-67 lead into the halftime locker room. The story of the first half ended up being foul trouble as both Jokic (3 fouls) and Plumlee (4 fouls) had trouble staying on the floor.

At the break, Denver was led offensively by Murray and Millsap, who each had 14 points on a combined 6-of-14 shooting from the field. Both players combined to shoot 13-of-13 — Murray 7-7, Millsap 6-6 — from the free-throw line, while Denver as a team was a perfect 18-of-18 from the charity stripe at halftime.

To start the third quarter, Denver continued to score at will, but Jokic quickly picked up his fourth foul and the Nuggets compounded it with two technical fouls to keep New Orleans in the game. Millsap and Michael Malone picked up the technical fouls, but Denver still held a 3-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the quarter.

That lead would quickly evaporate as New Orleans went up by 2-points just a few possessions later. Denver would have to scrap and crawl their way back to regain the lead, which would have to wait till the fourth quarter. Going into the final 12 minutes of play, New Orleans held a 96-93 after outscoring Denver 28-22 in the third quarter.

The Pelicans continued their dominant second half as they opened the fourth quarter on a 9-4 run to push their lead up to 8-points. Denver’s once 19-point lead was a thing of the past as the Nuggets were doing everything in their power to try and not end up suffering one of their worst losses of the season.

It was starting to leak bleak for Denver though as New Orleans bumped their lead up to nine points with 5:45 left in the game. The Nuggets were able to cut into that lead by one point, but New Orleans still led 115-107 with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans just would not go away though as they controlled the final three minutes of play as Denver struggled to score from the field and at the free-throw stripe. New Orleans would end up hitting some free-throws late as Julius Randle (28) and Jrue Holiday (29) combined to score 57 points in a 120-112 victory over Denver.

Stat leaders for Denver were Murray, who finished with 20 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Millsap also had a big night for Denver with 16 points, seven rebounds, and five steals on the defensive end of the floor. Jokic (20) and Isaiah Thomas (12) also finished in double-figures for Denver, while Mason Plumlee fell just short of a double-dobule with 14 points and nine rebounds. Jokic also just missed out on another triple-double as he also hauled in nine rebounds and dished out seven assists.

Denver now has a day off tomorrow before they hit the road to San Antonio for a Monday night showdown against the Spurs.