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Eight nuggets for the amount of times Anthony Davis got to the free throw line in the fourth quarter of a 125-115 loss.
1. Jrue Holliday cut through the Nuggets’ pick and roll coverage like an electric knife through a turkey. With eight minutes to go, Holliday breezed between Mason Plumlee and Jamal Murray, got to the rim and laid it up for an easy two. The basket, which pushed New Orleans’ lead to 13, was emblematic of the ease the Pelicans scored the basketball on Saturday.
The Nuggets, who came into the game ranked third in defensive efficiency, got blown by, beaten up on the boards and struggled to stay in front without fouling. The Pelicans scored 23 second-chance points, 20 fast-break points and converted 31 of 34 free-throw attempts.
“All night we had little lapses,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said on Altitude TV’s postgame broadcast.
Anthony Davis and Julius Randle have given Denver a lot of trouble over the years, and those patterns continued. A night after scoring 43 points in a win over the Knicks, Davis went for 40 points and eight rebounds against the Nuggets. He scored half of his points at the free throw line, where he went 20 for 21. Davis attempted eight more free throws than the entire Nuggets’ team. Meanwhile, Randle, the answer to the question what would happen if Juggernaut pursued a career in basketball, scored 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting and collected 10 rebounds.
2. Davis had a monster game, and Nikola Jokic was on his way to doing the same until he slipped on a wet spot in the first quarter. Jokic, with Davis guarding him, came out firing. He made seven of his first eight shots and was up to 18 points less than eight minutes in. But after the stumble, Jokic shot 3 for 12 the rest of the way.
He still finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, narrowly missing out on a triple-double yet again. His line could have looked more gaudy, though. The Nuggets scored 67 first-half points but only 48 in the second half. Their offense petered out while the Pelicans just kept going.
3. The Nuggets are one of the most talented shooting teams in the NBA. Jokic, Gary Harris and Juancho Hernangomez already have seasons under their belts above 40 percent from the 3-point line. Then there are the two Candian-born Kentucky alums: Jamal Murray (37.8 percent) and Trey Lyles (38.1 percent) both shot the 3 in the high 30s in 2017-18. With all that firepower in the rotation, it’s strange to see guys passing up good looks.
You’re down by 13 points in the fourth quarter. Let if fly!
4. Murray is going through it. The third-year guard has had decision-making issues all season. He isn’t a point guard by nature, an issue that rears its head in pick-and-roll situations.
All Murray needed to do in the play above was take one more aggressive dribble. Jokic was waiting for the dump-off pass. Instead, Murray tossed up an awkward floater that led to a Pelicans layup on the other end. Then there was this turnover later in the quarter.
Murray was a team-worst minus-14 in 29 minutes. Monte Morris (13 points, five assists) outplayed him once again.
5. Murray’s miscalculations are costing the Nuggets. So is the fact that he can’t get great looks to fall.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Murray had knocked down only 12 of 44 “wide-open” 3-point attempts (27.7 percent), which the NBA defines as any time the closest defender is 6 feet away or further. Murray shot 42.6 percent on wide-open 3s a year ago.
6. Back-to-back 20-point games for Hernangomez, who followed up a 25-point performance against Atlanta with an even 20 against the Pelicans. Hernangomez might have seized Harris’ crown as best cutter on the team.
Hernangomez is a perfect fit in the Jokic Ball system with the way he knocks down outside shots, moves without the ball and whips it around. He still has a ways to go on the defensive end, even if he has improved there this year, and he still passes up the occasional shot. But overall, he’s been excellent in an expanded role.
7. At least once per game, Malik Beasley does something that causes me to sit up in my seat.
Sometimes it’s a dunk. Sometimes it’s a block. He is a special athlete.
8. The Nuggets’ inability to win on the road was one of the biggest reasons why they missed the postseason a year ago. They went 31-10 at Pepsi Center but just 15-26 away from their home venue. They’re 3-3 this year with two tough games at Milwaukee and at Minnesota on the docket. Going oh-fer on this three-game road trip is in play if Denver isn’t careful.