Nuggets drop another road game despite strong start in New Orleans against the Pelicans

Dec 6, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) and New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins (0) battle for a rebound during the second quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans were without their All-Star forward Anthony Davis on Wednesday night and Denver head coach Michael Malone decided to go small with his starters. The usual backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris was in place, but Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried filled out the starting line up.

In Denver’s previous matchup with Dallas they were absolutely obliterated in the paint. Perhaps by the instructions of head coach Micahel Malone, Denver made that their focus to start the game. After settling for jump shots for 48 minutes on Monday, Denver attacked the paint with a fury from the tip.

The Nuggets went after Rajon Rando early and often. They blitzed him repeatedly as Denver ended up scoring their first six points of the game by blowing by Rondo and that consistently resulted in easy layups. Denver would score 12 of their first 15 points in the paint as they converted on their first six attempts.

The Nuggets took the easy points that were given to them, but they also knocked down their looks beyond the arc. They hit seven threes on ten attempts in the first quarter — led by Will Barton who dropped three bombs from deep. Denver opened up a 10 point lead, but after the first substitution of the night, the Pelicans gained some ground. New Orleans finished 9 for 10 from the field for the remainder of the quarter as they engineered a 19-9 run to tie the game at 33.

The Nuggets would regroup and rediscover their energy in the second quarter. A lineup of Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee opened up the quarter with a 9-3 run to regain the lead. Denver continued to create — and convert — easy looks as they headed into the half with a 24-8 advantage in fast break points, but it was all for naught thanks to a horrid defensive performance.

Going small yielded results that you might expect: the fast break points were helpful, but DeMarcus Cousins absolutely bullied the Nuggets down low. Cousins had 19 first-half points — thanks to seven free throws — and he snagged 10 rebounds to secure a double-double after just two quarters. Jrue Holliday added 19 points of his own helping the Pels to a 67-66 lead at the half.

For Denver, the offense slowed down significantly in the third. Those fast-break points that came so easily in the first half disappeared entirely; Denver had zero such points in the third. The Pelicans dominated on the glass as well as they finished with 16 rebounds and limiting the Nuggets to just seven boards. It added up to a 30-25 advantage for New Orleans as the third quarter came to a close.

If the the wheels appeared wobbly in the third; they fell off entirely in the fourth. The fast-break points were nowhere to be found for Denver, their steady supply of points in the paint dried up, and the shooters cooled off. As hard as the offense was to find for Denver, it came that much easier for New Orleans, who turned the fourth quarter into a lay-up line. In a game that featured 14 lead changes, the Pelicans led the whole way, stretching their lead as large as 20. A once promising game ended in a 123 to 114 defeat for the Nuggets.

Demarcus Cousins led the way with a ridiculous 40 points and 22 rebounds for the Pelicans. Gary Harris was the high man for Denver finishing with 24 points. The Nuggets fall to 13-11 on the year and will travel to Orlando for a Friday night match up.