Although the New Orleans Pelicans are still at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, they are amid their best stretch of the season. In the meantime, the Denver Nuggets are amid their worst stretch.
And Wednesday night, the two teams will meet in New Orleans.
The Nuggets have lost eight of their past 10 games and have been plagued recently by a series of slow starts to the third quarter. They led the Bulls by three at halftime in Chicago before the Bulls scored the first seven points of the third quarter and rolled to 63 second-half points in a 109-97 home victory.
“This league is too good to come out lackadaisical,” said Monte Morris, who scored 19 points for Denver. “It’s a slap in the face to the coaching staff because we start off good and just — I don’t know what’s happening. They gave us a great game plan and we do that. That’s not cool.”
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had a triple-double — 17 points, 12 rebounds and a season-high 15 assists — but he made just 6-of-17 field-goal attempts. The Denver bench scored a total of just 10 points.
Coach Michael Malone said “every option is on the board” to try and turn things around.
“I could play Nikola 48 (minutes),” Malone said. “That’s an option that’s certainly been discussed. I don’t think that’s good for his longevity.”
The game Monday started a stretch of four games in six nights to complete the Nuggets’ seven-game road trip.
The Pelicans having won four of their last seven games over the past two weeks, which might not be world-beating, but it’s movement in the right direction considering they started the season 3-16.
Even though New Orleans has lost two of its last three, first-year coach Willie Green said he’s encouraged by the overall improvement.
“In our wins we’ve done a good job of moving the ball,” Green said. “In some of the losses we have become stagnant and missed some shots. It’s hard to play as fast as we want to when you’re taking the ball out of the net.”
New Orleans had 30 assists on 37 field goals in the victory at Dallas, then just 19 on 40 field goals in the loss at Houston.
“Our assists could be higher,” Green said, “but we’ve got to make (more) shots.”
Brandon Ingram has elevated his offensive game of late. He had perhaps his most complete game of the season (24 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) in a 107-91 victory at Dallas on Friday. Although New Orleans lost two nights later in Houston (118-108), Ingram had a season-high 40 points.
“We had a talk and since then he has been playing at a higher level,” Green said of Ingram. “He has been playing faster and taking over games, which I love. He watches a ton of film.”
Ingram made 15-of-28 field goals, but his teammates shot a combined 25 of 66. As a team the Pelicans shot 26.3 percent (10 of 38) on 3-pointers.
“A fast pace is the key to our offense,” said center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds against the Rockets. “We’ve got to play with pace in the set offense too.”
Willy Hernangomez has recorded back-to-back doubles-doubles playing behind Valanciunas, doing so by halftime against Houston.