Preview: Denver Nuggets look to win season series vs. Pelicans

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

In what should be a surprise to no one, the Denver Nuggets continue to win and push through adversity.

Despite a rash of injuries to key contributors, Denver has posted the league’s best record (12-3) over the past 15 games, with the latest being a 120-96 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies Monday, which secured a season series sweep for the Mile High squad.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Grizzlies

Michael Porter Jr. has continued his ascension in a larger offensive role, dropping 31 points against Memphis to bring his average up to 25.7 points per game since Jamal Murray was lost to an ACL injury.

The Nuggets (40-21) now look to win another season series, this time against the New Orleans Pelicans.

New Orleans (27-34) has been inconsistent all season, occasionally showing the ability to match up with the best teams, while on other nights looking like a team that isn’t ready for playoff basketball. Having the 27th-ranked defense will certainly hold a team back, despite also having the eighth-ranked offense.

The two teams split the first two meetings of the season back in March.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Aaron Gordon vs. Zion Williamson

When trying to slow down Zion Williamson, it is always a team effort.

The 20-year-old has continued his takeover of the league, averaging 26.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game on 61.8 percent shooting from the field. A trend that has developed throughout this season has been Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy giving the ball more to Williamson to create and set up others, leading to more “Point Zion”. This has also led to an increase in assists per game, up to 4.1 over the past 10 games.

Against Denver this season, Williamson has used his scoring to dominate. Over the first two games of the season series, the former first overall pick averaged 34.5 points per game on a staggering 78.1 percent shooting from the field.

This will be Gordon’s first game against New Orleans as a Nugget, and Denver’s prized trade deadline acquisition should receive the first opportunity to defend Williamson. However, look for Michael Malone to go to JaMychal Green and Paul Millsap off the bench to provide some physicality against Williamson.

The battle on the boards

Wednesday’s matchup pits two of the best rebounding teams in the league against one another.

New Orleans and Denver rank first and second, respectively, in offensive rebound percentage, while both teams rank in the top 10 of defensive rebound percentage.

In the first meeting between these two teams, the Pelicans finished with a 45-37 rebounding advantage, which included a 14-10 advantage on the offensive glass. However, Denver reversed that in the second meeting, holding an 11-6 advantage on the offensive glass.

Given how high-powered both offenses are, creating additional second-chance opportunities will play a key role in deciding Wednesday’s contest.

Pack the paint on defense

You know when a team has Zion Williamson that points in the paint are going to be a focus on the offensive end. The numbers during this 2020-21 season certainly confirm that’s the case for New Orleans.

The Pelicans are first in the frequency of shot attempts coming from within four feet of the rim by a comfortable margin (41.8 percent of their total shot attempts) and are second in points in the paint per game at 54.

Although New Orleans has only finished at a near-league average clip at the rim (64.7 percent), Denver must focus on protecting the paint on Sunday, especially considering the Pelicans’ limited 3-point shooting.

New Orleans has only averaged 30.6 3-point attempts per game this season, which ranks 25th in the league. The Pelicans’ 35.2 percent shooting on those attempts doesn’t rank much better at 23rd in the league this season.

If the Nuggets can make things difficult for New Orleans in the paint, it will go a long way in limiting the Pelicans’ dominant offense.

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