Preview: Nuggets face a dangerous Pelicans team at home

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Two scorching offenses battle each other for playoff seeding

The Denver Nuggets host a new-look New Orleans Pelicans squad with former Trail Blazer CJ McCollum at the helm. The Pelicans were once on the outside looking in to the playoff picture, but his presence has helped them again the 10th seed in the West and a current position in the play-in tournament. Since McCollum’s arrival, the Pelicans have the 4th best scoring offense in the NBA, scoring 118.8 points per game, and they hold the league’s best field goal percentage at 51.6%.

This is a dangerous offensive squad, but the Nuggets are not far behind. In their last eight games, the Nuggets are averaging 117.3 PPG which ranks 7th among the NBA, and they have the 6th most three-point baskets made per game during that span. Denver’s ball movement has remained crisp as they have been top ten in the league in that category all season, but the Pelicans can counter with physical play from their bigs. They have been a top ten rebounding team all season, and although the Nuggets have increased their productivity in that category recently, tonight should present a physical battle.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (37-26, 18-11 home) vs New Orleans Pelicans (27-36, 12-19 away)

When: 6:00 PM MT

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Expected Starting Lineups:

NOP: PG CJ McCollum, SG Herbert Jones, SF Brandon Ingram, PF Jaxson Hayes, C Jonas Valanciunas

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Nikola Jokic (day to day), Zeke Nnaji (day to day), Austin Rivers (day to day), Vlatko Cancar (out), Zion Williamson (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out), Kira Lewis Jr. (out)

Three Keys

No extra baskets

The Pelicans are the 4th best offensive rebounding team in the league, so they can create havoc on the glass and translate that into points. Over their last 8 games, they are 5th in the league in second-chance points, thus preventing them from obtaining extra looks will be key tonight. It is tough enough to keep talented scorers like Ingram and McCollum from exploiting their matchups, so Denver can ill afford to offer additional opportunities to this Pelicans team.

Sustain the shootout

New Orleans is one of the hottest offenses in all of basketball recently. McCollum appears to have brought rejuvenated energy to this team, and they are capitalizing on the offensive end. In their last three games, they have scored 123+ points, and in their last five, they have scored 118+. During that five-game span, they are 4-1, so the Nuggets will welcome a high-powered offense into Ball Arena and they need to match their offensive execution to prevent an upset.

Hold their role players at bay

Ingram and McCollum are talented enough scorers to conquer most defenses, so the Nuggets might have to shift their focus to the “other guys.” The last time these two faced off, Herbert Jones dropped 25 points with a majority of those coming in the fourth quarter. Jaxson Hayes also produced 22 points and 11 rebounds, so this is a deep enough squad to cause problems. The closeouts and rotations will have to be sharp tonight because if they offer the Pelicans role players easy looks, New Orleans will once again put up 120+ points.

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