When a team’s top two scorers return to the lineup, it usually increases that team’s chances of getting a win.
But the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t get the result it was hoping for against Atlanta, losing despite getting Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram back into the lineup.
The Pelicans are hoping things will start clicking when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, has battled injury for most of his young career and was held out of Thursday night’s win over Detroit because the team was playing three games in four nights. Ingram was dealing with knee tendinitis.
New Orleans will need them both to play well -- and for the team to improve defensively -- to beat a Denver team that is undefeated in four home games. The Pelicans have allowed 116 and 123 points in their past two games and had trouble getting stops in a 123-105 loss to the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
That was the big difference, Pelicans coach Willie Green said.
“That’s just demoralizing,” he said. “We have to be better at having the mindset that we’re going to get stops, we’re going to finish those possessions with rebounds.”
The main factor in stopping the Nuggets is containing center Nikola Jokic, and Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas has played Jokic as well as anyone in the NBA. He averaged 13 points and 7.3 rebounds in four games against Denver in 2022-23.
The Nuggets will likely be without one of their stars if point guard Jamal Murray can’t go. Murray, the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.3 points a game, left Saturday night’s win against Chicago with right hamstring tightness.
Murray left the arena with a limp, and coach Michael Malone wants to be cautious with him.
“You always worry about those types of injuries because they can stick around for a while, so we have to be smart about it,” he said.
Denver’s depth at point guard will be tested if Murray is out, but backup Reggie Jackson played well in extended minutes and Collin Gillespie had five points -- his first in the NBA -- in 12 minutes against the Bulls and could see more action against New Orleans.
Gillespie, an undrafted rookie out of Villanova, didn’t play last season after sustaining a fractured left leg during the 2022 Summer League. He played sparingly this season until pressed into action Saturday night.
“It was fun being out there for the first time playing real NBA minutes,” Gillespie said. “Step in for (Jamal) and do whatever I could do to help the team win.”
Usually that means getting the ball to Jokic so he can conduct the offense, and it has worked out well for the reigning champions. The Nuggets have won six of their first seven despite knowing teams are gearing up to beat the reigning NBA champions.
“I think we understand how good we are now and what standard we have to play at,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “We understand that every team is coming in and playing us like they know they are playing the champs.”
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