Another game, another ugly road loss. The Denver Nuggets fell 123-114 to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. DeMarcus Cousins exploded for 40 points and 22 rebounds against a short-handed Denver team. Here are five observations from the game.
1. Boogie danced all over Denver
Last month, the Nuggets held the Pelicans' do-everything big man relatively in check. Cousins converted 6-16 shots and scored 14 points. This time around, Cousins didn't have to deal with Nikola Jokic or Paul Millsap, and he dominated.
Cousins scored 40 points on 25 shots. He got to the free-throw line 21 times. Cousins has been chucking three-pointers at a prodigious rate this season, but against Denver he did most of his damage inside.
Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried took turns defending him. Neither was able to hold him in check. Plumlee was in foul trouble all game. He fouled out with 1:25 remaining. Faried finished the game with five fouls.
Cousins killed Denver on the glass. He grabbed seven of the Pelicans' 11 offensive rebounds and 22 of their 49 rebounds overall. It was a dominating effort from Michael Malone's former star player.
"He's a great player," Malone said on Altitude TV's post-game broadcast. "He went out there and did whatever he wanted. And he did it with ease."
2. The defense was awful — again
New Orleans came into the game missing some significant offensive firepower. Anthony Davis, who is recovering from a left adductor injury, didn't play for the third-straight game. Without "The Brow," the Pelicans still found a way to torch Denver for 123 points.
New Orleans shot 53.5 percent from the field and scored 56 points in the paint.
"We let them played to their tendencies," Plumlee said on Altitude TV's post-game broadcast. "You've got to make guys beat you with their "B" and their "C" moves, but they beat us with their "A" moves tonight."
The Nuggets looked like a competent defensive team when Millsap was in the lineup. Before he hurt his wrist in Los Angeles, Denver was surrendering 105.0 points per 100 possessions — a mark that ranked 17th. Since then, Denver's defense has fallen off a cliff. The Nuggets are allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions in the nine games they've played without Millsap, the second-worst mark in the league dating back to Nov. 19.
3. The highs are high with Mudiay, but the lows are so low
Emmanuel Mudiay did a lot of positive things Wednesday. When he got into the game in the second quarter, Mudiay drilled his first three three-point attempts of the game. He also threw a beautiful lob pass to Faried in transition. Mudiay played so well Malone left him in for the entire second quarter.
Then the second half rolled around, and Mudiay started making many of his usual mistakes. He shot off-balance mid-range jumper. He turned the ball over at inopportune times. Late in the third quarter, Mudiay appeared to have the inside lane on a fast-break layup but inexplicably coughed the ball up.
Mudiay finished the game with 17 points on 5-12 shooting. He was also a minus-18 in 27 minutes.
This season, the Nuggets have been outscored by 128 points when Mudiay is on the court. When Mudiay is on the bench, Denver has outscored opponents by 115 points. That's the biggest disparity on the team by a comfortable margin.
4. Denver excels when it gets out in transition
Denver is one of the best teams in basketball at scoring buckets when it gets out on the break. That was on display in the first quarter when the Nuggets racked up 16 fast-break points.
After earning double-digit minutes in each of the last eight games, Juancho Hernangomez was yanked out of the rotation. The Spanish forward was replaced in the reserve unit by fellow second-year player Malik Beasley.
Beasley entered the game with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter and wound up playing 17 minutes. His final line: eight points (3-7 shooting), one rebound and two assists.
Hernangomez did not play until late in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over.
It's unclear why Malone made the switch. Maybe he thought Beasley represented a defensive upgrade over Hernangomez? Regardless, that battle between Beasley and Hernangomez for reserve forward minutes is worth monitoring moving forward.