Defending Champion Nuggets Present A Major Road Test for the Pelicans

The Denver Nuggets have avoided the post-title hangover, at least to this point. They’re 5-1 on the year with a top-two net rating adjusted for strength of schedule. Nikola Jokic scores and passes at an MVP level once again. Can the 4-2 Pelicans find a crack and take down the defending champs on Monday?

Jokic’s gaudy offensive numbers are nothing new, as his elite scoring volume (29.1 pts per 75) and efficiency (70.1) feel normal despite few players in NBA history matching them. He’s a dominant scorer from every zone, nearly unguardable thanks to his strength, craft and all-time shooting touch.

Shutting down Jokic fully is an impossible task, though Minnesota’s defensive performance in Denver’s sole loss could blueprint New Orleans’ defensive strategy. The Timberwolves, currently the NBA’s best defense, turned Jokic over five times on his least efficient scoring night of the young season. Rudy Gobert closed off the rim as a help-side defender and the Wolves’ treasure trove of rangy defenders, from Jaden McDaniels to Kyle Anderson, swarmed the ball.

Though the Pelicans don’t have a paint defender to emulate the Gobert role in this defensive scheme, they are loaded with their own perimeter defensive talent. With Jonas Valanciunas likely walling up Jokic as a primary defender, the Pelicans will rely on Herb Jones, Dyson Daniels, Brandon Ingram and the rest of the wings and forwards to pressure Jokic into misses and turnovers.

Herb Jones will play an especially key role as he does every night. He’s played like one of the league’s best defenders to begin this season, notably upping his block rate to an elite level (4.9%). Though Herb will likely chase and mirror Jamal Murray when they share the floor together, the Pelicans will need Jones to pressure Jokic as a help defender and cover for their inevitable defensive mistakes.

As per usual, the Nuggets are loaded with offensive threats. The aforementioned Murray operates as the other cog of the vaunted Jokic-Murray two-man game, his passing elevating to new heights this season. Michael Porter Jr. is a flamethrower who can eviscerate even the best defenses on his best nights. He’s quietly improved as a defender over the last year and is no longer a liability on that end. 

Facing one of the league’s best teams is never easy, especially on the road. Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas must match Jokic and the Nuggets offensively for the Pelicans to compete. But if the defense can bother and swarm Jokic into an off night, New Orleans could sneak away a road win against the defending champs.

Written by Ben Pfeifer

Keys to Victory

  1. Get Zion involved early. Though Williamson led the Pelicans with 25 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, he didn’t score his first points until midway through the second quarter. After missing the team’s win over the Piston, he didn’t look in sync with his teammates and struggled to put forth his best effort on the boards and on defense. The Pelicans need to make sure Zion is engaged from the opening tip.
  2. Stay agressive. Losing CJ McCollum this early in the season is a major blow for the development of the New Orleans offense that is already without Trey Murphy III. The Pelicans were stagnant at times against Atlanta. The Pels set season-lows in three-pointers made (8) and attempted (31). In fact, three point attempts have gone down in three straight games after they were on the rise over the first four. The Pelicans need to play inside-out and with tempo to generate the looks that they did to start the season.
  3. Let Jordan cook. Jordan Hawkins’ hasn’t been intimidated by being thrust into major minutes as rookie. While his shooting numbers aren’t stellar (33.9 FG%, 31.7 3P%), Hawkins has shown the confidence to take and make shots in big moments. He’s made at least one triple in each game this season, including 4-of-8 against the Hawks. He’s also shown solid rebounding instincts, averaging more than four boards per game, and has five steals. With so many perimeter threats sidelined, Hawkins should get plenty of chances to shoot the rock.
  4. BI needs to lead. With McCollum sidelined indefinitely, Brandon Ingram has to become the voice of the Pelicans. He is the longest-tenured player on the roster (besides Zion) and this upcoming stretch of games will require Ingram to be at his very best. Ingram is notorious for slow starts following his return from injury. That’s a luxury the Pelicans cannot afford right now. Ingram has faced scrutiny from both within and outside the organization, and this could be a career-defining season for him. If Ingram can’t be the player the Pelicans need now, he might never be.

Probable Starting Lineups

New Orleans Pelicans (vs DEN last season)Denver Nuggets (vs NOP last season)
G – Jordan Hawkins (N/A)G – Reggie Jackson (N/A)
G – Brandon Ingram (23.5 pts, 9.5 ast, 7.5 reb)G – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8.3 pts, 3.0 reb)
F – Herbert Jones (11.0 pts, 5.7 reb, 2.7 stl)F – Michael Porter Jr. (11.5 pts, 23.1 3P%)
F – Zion Williamson (25.0 pts, 6.0 reb)F – Aaron Gordon (14.0 pts, 6.0 reb)
C – Jonas Valanciunas (13.0 pts, 7.3 reb)C – Nikola Jokic (27.7 pts, 15.0 reb, 11.3 ast)


New Orleans Pelicans: Jose Alvarado (right ankle sprain), Naji Marshall (right knee contusion), CJ McCollum (right lung), and Trey Murphy III (left knee partial meniscectomy) are OUT

Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray (right hamstring) is OUT

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (4-2) vs Denver Nuggets (6-1)

Series history: Nuggets lead all-time 41-31, 2-2 in 2022-23

Where: Ball Arena

When: November 6, 8:00 PM CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5


23 thoughts on “Defending Champion Nuggets Present A Major Road Test for the Pelicans

    1. Glad to have you back SS. See your test post. For some reason when you post it takes a while to show up

  1. That probable starting lineup I don’t like it. Hawkins should come off the bench for shooting purposes along with Matt Ryan. I probably would start Seabron instead to breakdown the defense.

    1. I’d start Daniels only cause Seabron does not have a lot of on court experience. I think Willie likes Hawk because he can shoot the 3 with some consistency. With injuries wish Willie would play him (Seabron) in more rotations. I suspect when Trigga, Bandito and Naji come back he’ll be sent to Birmingham.

  2. On another note concerning CJ. With this being the second time this issue has popped up, Griff should sit him indefinitely and seek a medical exemption. This could be something serious in regards to his health. Search for a true Pg via trade by putting those picks to use now. Maybe see who’s available out there as a FA.

  3. Here is a short list of player selected before Jokic in 2014 draft
    Jabari Parker
    Dante Exum
    Elfrid Payton
    Doug McDermott
    James Young
    Mitch McGarry

    many more

  4. It is sick that a player the size of Jokic can play 38 to 42 minutes a night..He is not of this planet

  5. Great first half by Pels against a team with a lot of talent and length. Need to play better on the back cuts

  6. Hawkins and Ryan give us needed shooters. When Trigga returns we could have even more lethal offense. Nuggets different team without Murray.

  7. Hawkins has the same nose for the basketball that Josh Hart has..but his overall game is much smoother and he can shoot the lights out.

  8. Trade BI..not at the trade deadline, not at the end of the year, as soon as you can….softest player in the NBA..I really don’t want to see him in a Pels uniform anymore..of course, even if he isn’t traded, I can pretty much book that I won’t see him often

    1. It’s definitely a dilemma especially since he is so well liked by his teammates and seems to like the city and organization. Maybe if everyone can get healthy for an extended period of time it can work out but that is a big “if” as we know all too well. The lack of a three point shot is problematic especially in today’s NBA and with the amount of money he makes and is about to make. Maybe Trey and Baby Hawk will make it less of an issue. They should be able to get quite the haul for him though but hopefully it all works out.

        1. I think he has been in the league almost 8 years. I don’t see someone changing all that much after that extended period of time. Many teams would be interested, then again the pianoman would probably give away several number 1’s to move him.

  9. Nugs are a championship shame in losing to them in Denver. Hawk was great, Zion played well overall, nice contributions from Ryan and Dice. Poor Jonas played hard, but Jokic is just a walking mismatch.

    I will let you draw your own conclusions with respect to the max contract player I left off the list.

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