Preview: Denver Nuggets face New Orleans Pelicans in second scrimmage

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The journey to Denver’s first seeding game continues Saturday, as the Nuggets will take on the Pelicans in the second scrimmage for both teams.

Wednesday’s 89-82 victory over the Washington Wizards was a memorable game for Denver, as it set a league record for the tallest starting lineup and also saw Bol Bol shine in his debut. The 7’2” big man had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in his first NBA game, which caught the attention of fans and analysts.

However, head coach Michael Malone would certainly like to have more players available Saturday, as Troy Daniels was the only guard that took the court Wednesday. With Jamal Murray and Will Barton III held out of Wednesday’s scrimmage for precautionary reasons, there is a good chance both will suit up for the Nuggets.

Guard Gary Harris and forward Torrey Craig have also joined the team in Orlando and have begun practicing, but it remains to be seen if they will suit up Saturday.

New Orleans may not have Rookie of the Year candidate Zion Williamson in the bubble, but they still boast a talented squad that is aiming for a playoff spot when the season resumes. The Pelicans easily defeated the Brooklyn Nets 99-68 in their first scrimmage.

Here are the key storylines to watch for in Saturday’s contest:

How will Bol follow up on his debut?

As mentioned earlier, Bol made a strong first impression against the Wizards. The rookie used his height and wingspan to defend the rim and was an active presence defensively, especially as the Nuggets opted to use a zone defense for the majority of the game.

On offense, Bol showcased his ability to hit from beyond the arc, while he ran the floor effectively in transition to set himself up for easy baskets around the rim. Of course, a new opponent presents new defenses to match up against, while Denver having more players available may limit Bol’s playing time.

However, the 20-year-old big man adds elite rim protection to Denver’s defense and can be a matchup nightmare on the offensive end. Further playing time in the upcoming scrimmages will only help Bol’s development.

How creative will the lineups be this time?

Given that he only had eight players available Wednesday, Malone was forced to play lineups with upwards of four or in some cases, five big men on the court together.

With some reinforcements likely taking the floor Saturday, the scrimmage against New Orleans should provide the coaching staff with a better opportunity to mix and match lineups that would actually take the court when the seeding games begin.

Ideally, Denver would benefit from having more backcourt options available in Murray and Barton III, which would help limit the playing time and usage of the big men in the rotation.

Following Friday’s practice, Malone revealed that he will continue to be cautious when it comes to approaching the minutes of his players and who will take the court on Saturday.

Saturday’s scrimmage comes exactly one week before Denver’s first seeding game, so having a chance to properly evaluate where the team is in terms of conditioning and on-court chemistry is immensely valuable at this stage.

Defending New Orleans’ fast-paced offense

Yes, the Pelicans won’t be at full strength during Saturday’s scrimmage. However, New Orleans will continue to play at a fast pace, which has been the team’s strategy throughout the 2019-20 campaign.

The Pelicans ranked second in the league in pace when the league was suspended back on March 11, and Denver’s defense had trouble getting back in transition in three matchups against New Orleans this season.

In those three games, the Pelicans scored a combined 69 fast-break points, which played a key role in them defeating the Nuggets in two of those contests. How Denver’s defense fares Saturday could provide a glimpse into how ready the team is on that end of the floor for the seeding games.

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