Nuggets fall to Pelicans in offensive shootout

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) jumps with New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) to start the game at the Smoothie King Center.
Nov 17, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) jumps with New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) to start the game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets opened their three-game road trip on a sour note Saturday night falling 125-115 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

With the loss, Denver falls to third place in the Western Conference with a record of 10-6, but still sit just two games behind the Golden State Warriors for first place in the West.

After finding their offense against the Atlanta Hawks, Denver continued that momentum against the Pelicans as Nikola Jokic scored the Nuggets first five points of the night. Jokic was looking to score early and often as his hot start led Denver on a 13-7 run to start the game. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans offense answered to tie the game at 15 with seven minutes left in the first quarter, but a Jokic three-point play ignited the Nuggets offense once again.

Jokic had 10 points in the games first five minutes and did a great job getting his teammates involved, while also getting Davis in early foul trouble. Davis picked up his second foul with 6:38 left in the first quarter, which opened the door for Denver to stay aggressive on offense with New Orleans in early foul trouble.

That message was clear to Jokic, who scored 18 points in his nine first quarter minutes. Jokic finished the period 7-of-8 shooting from the field, and seemed to avoid an injury scare after appearing to hurt his right leg after slipping on the court. The scare was short lived though as Jokic stayed in the game and played his normal minutes the rest of the night.

With Jokic subbing out towards the end of the first quarter, the Pelicans made the most of the Nuggets big man not being on the floor as they finished the opening frame strong to take a 37-35 lead into the second. After Jokic came out of the game, New Orleans immediately went on a 9-0 run and really picked apart Denver’s defense. Still, the Nuggets were able to keep pace after shooting 15-of-27 from the field and 3-of-7 from behind the arc in the first quarter.

The Nuggets normally reliable second unit continued to struggle in the second quarter as New Orleans started the period on an 8-0 run to take a 45-37 lead. That run seemed to ignite Denver’s bench unit though as they proceeded to go on a 16-4 run to give them a 53-49 lead with 6:44 left before halftime. Two threes from Gary Harris and some confident play from Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee was key in Denver going on that huge run to give them the lead midway through the second.

That lead was short lived though as New Orleans went on a 18-6 run to take a 67-59 lead with 2:28 left before halftime. That run was sparked by a two minute span where Denver picked up two technical fouls and New Orleans made almost every free-throw they attempted. The free-throw discrepancy at halftime was staggering as New Orleans was 21-of-24 from the charity stripe, with Denver going just 4-of-5 from the line.

Free-throws played a key role in New Orleans taking a 70-67 lead into the halftime locker room, with Davis leading the way offensively going 10-of-11 from the line. Davis finished the half with 22 points and was complimented by Julius Randle, who had 15 points and six rebounds in his 15 first half minutes.

Denver was led at the break by Jokic, who had 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, but did go scoreless in the second quarter. Gary Harris and Monte Morris also had a solid first half for Denver combining to score 18 points on 10-12 shooting from the field. Denver as a team shot 58 percent from the field and 43 percent from three in the first half to keep pace with the high flying Pelicans offense.

New Orleans offensive success carried over into there second half, but the same could not be said for Denver. A 10-2 Pelicans run in the opening minutes of the third quarter gave New Orleans a 85-77 lead with 6:57 remaining in the period. New Orleans had no issue making their shots, while the Nuggets started the half extremely cold shooting wise. After his 18 first quarter points, Jokic had not scored till the 5:53 mark in the third period, which finally seemed to give the Nuggets offense the spark they were looking for.

Even with the Nuggets offense back on track, they still had no recipe to stop the Pelicans and were trailing 94-84 with 1:38 left in the third quarter. The Pelicans rarely had an empty possession in the third as Davis and Randle continued to dominate and combined for 47 points and 12 rebounds through three quarters. New Orleans rode the play of those two in route to a 98-88 lead going into the fourth quarter.

With the Nuggets needing a big quarter to steal a road victory, the defense still just wasn’t there as New Orleans jumped out to a 108-95 lead with eight minutes remaining in the game. Denver’s defense continued to struggle in the fourth as the Pelicans continued to ride their offense in route to a 125-115 victory over the Nuggets.

Davis led the game offensively with 40 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and was just an unstoppable force all night long. Another notable stat line for New Orleans was from Randle, who finished the night with 21 points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes off the bench.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Jokic, who finished the night with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Jokic collected his 10th double-double of the season, but was not outdone by Harris, who chipped in 24 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Juancho Hernangomez also had a pretty good night for Denver with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 4-of-6 from downtown. Hernangomez also had a double-double finishing the night with game high 11 rebounds.

The Nuggets will have a day off tomorrow before they’re back in action Monday night to face the Milwaukee Bucks. After the Bucks game, Denver will face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night to close out their three-game road trip.