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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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