Pelicans (15-8), Nuggets (14-9)
The onslaught began with a barrage of Jose Alvarado three-pointers, continued with Trey Murphy’s third-quarter exhibition of dunks and ended with more Alvarado bombs from beyond the arc. In between, Zion Williamson found gaps in Denver’s interior defense. Add it all up, and New Orleans turned an early 14-point deficit into a 15-point victory, moving into second place in the Western Conference and posting a fourth straight win. Alvarado entered Sunday with career highs of 23 points and four three-pointers made, but zoomed past both by piling up 38 points and firing in eight treys. “It was a joy to watch,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green said. “His teammates did a great job of looking for him. We needed his production. He was off the charts.”
“Unbelievable,” Pelicans reserve forward Naji Marshall said of Alvarado, a close friend. “I'm with Jose every second of the day. For him to go for (38), it was crazy. I'm just happy I could be here for it. He's going to remember this forever.”
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Alvarado scored his 17th point of the fourth quarter by sinking a runner in the paint, putting New Orleans in front 113-97 with four-plus minutes remaining.
PELICANS PLAYER OF THE GAME
Known nationally more for his defensive prowess and “Grand Theft Alvarado” sneaky steals, Alvarado continues to show that he’s an excellent player overall, not just a crafty, plucky role player. The second-year point guard already had his career high in three-pointers by halftime, sinking five trifectas and tallying 19 vital points (Denver led 60-59 at the break). He added 19 more in the fourth quarter, finishing the game 12/19 from the field and 8/11 on threes.
BY THE NUMBERS
19: Denver turnovers (New Orleans only had 11), a big factor for the hosts, who were outrebounded and allowed the Nuggets to shoot 51 percent from the floor, yet still won in commanding fashion.
11: Murphy third-quarter points, including a pair of dunks in halfcourt offense that were headed directly to the highlight reel. He only scored two other points Sunday, but helped swing the tenor with his double-digit third period.
12, 8: Points and rebounds for Willy Hernangomez in only 19:47 of playing time. Hernangomez was needed to play key minutes, partly because Jonas Valanciunas battled foul trouble all night while dealing with Nikola Jokic (32 points, 16 rebounds).
REVISITING FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
(Star Wars Sunday in Smoothie King Center)
YOU WERE THE CHOSEN 1
It was a mixed bag for recent first-round New Orleans draft picks. The No. 1 overall pick in 2019, Williamson went for 25 points, six rebounds and four assists, not needed to go into 30-plus scoring territory with Alvarado lighting it up from outside. Murphy (first-rounder in 2021) shot 4/8 and had 12 points, while Daniels (No. 8 overall pick in 2022) had a quiet game in his second NBA start, logging 21 minutes.
USE THE FORCE
New Orleans passing powers were at their height (29 assists, at least 14 in both halves), allowing the hosts to match Denver by shooting exactly 41/81 from the field. The Pelicans did not continue their recent trend of elite foul shooting, however, at 28/36. Five of the misses were in the opening half.
DENY THE DARK SIDE
Specific to the matchup of New Orleans’ defense vs. Jokic, the Empire won this one, though the Pelicans were definitely more effective facing the two-time MVP after halftime. Jokic seemed capable of winning Sunday’s game by himself based on how he dominated the first 20 minutes or so, but Denver was outscored by 17 in the 10:43 when he wasn’t in the game.