Nuggets, Pelicans meet with plenty at stake

NBA Basketball

Each with 11 games remaining in the regular season, the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans have very different goals.

Denver (40-21), sitting fourth in the Western Conference, is trying to ensure homecourt advantage for at least one round of the playoffs. The Pelicans (27-34) are just trying to make it to the postseason.

The teams have a chance to improve their respective lots when they meet at Denver on Wednesday night for the third and final time this season. The first two games of the season series went to the road team, with each snagging a 113-108 win.

Tuesday’s game will impact the playoff fate for both teams. New Orleans sits 11th in the Western Conference after losing five of its last seven games, but it did come away with a big 120-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.

Heading into NBA action Tuesday night, the Pelicans were four games behind Golden State for the conference’s 10th spot and the last slot for the play-in round of the NBA postseason.

“We know these last 11 games, we’ve got to win every one,” Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball said. “Our defense has to be good for us to stay in every game.”

New Orleans has found success playing in Denver, winning there in each of the last two seasons. Monday’s victory could be a catalyst going into the home stretch.

“It’s a high-character group that’s been really resilient,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We’ve been through a really tough few weeks. … That’s when you worry about teams. Are they just going to give in at some point? And we haven’t.”

The Nuggets haven’t folded despite some big hits. They lost Jamal Murray for the season two weeks ago and his backup, Monte Morris, as well as Will Barton, are out due to hamstring injuries. Despite that, Denver is 6-1 in its last seven games and 23-6 since Feb. 27.

The acquisition of Aaron Gordon has made a big difference, while Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier have filled in adequately in the backcourt. The play of Michael Porter Jr. also has been a big factor in the Nuggets’ success.

Murray was the second option on offense behind Nikola Jokic, and Porter has stepped into that role. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 24.8 points and 7.5 rebounds. He had 31 points in the win over Memphis on Monday night.

Denver took a chance on Porter when back issues dropped him to No. 14 in the 2018 draft, but that gamble is paying off.

“The area I think Michael has really grown in is, and maybe it’s helped now because he knows without Jamal, without Will, the ball is going to find him,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after Monday’s win. “He’s not rushing shots; he’s not forcing shots like how he was doing earlier this season. He’s passing, he’s cutting, if he doesn’t have the shot, he’s going to hit Nikola and cut and get easy baskets that way as well.”

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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