The last time the Denver Nuggets faced the New Orleans Pelicans, the frontcourt matchup between the teams was shaping up to be a heavyweight fight: Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap vs. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
This time around, the battle between Denver’s and New Orleans’ bigs has the look of a welterweight undercard. Jokic (ankle) and Millsap (wrist) will both be unavailable. It’s also doubtful that Davis, who’s dealing with a left adductor strain, goes. That means Mason Plumlee will guard Cousins, and that we could be in line for Kenneth Faried vs. Dante Cunningham at power forward.
It’s not as sexy as the frontcourt clash nearly three weeks ago, but the battle inside will play a significant role in who wins Round 2 between banged-up Western Conference teams that are both desperately trying to end playoff droughts.
Plumlee has filled in as the starting center in the two games since Jokic went down with a sprained ankle. The results have been mixed. Plumlee played perhaps his best game of the season against the Lakers on Saturday. He scored 12 points (5-8 FG), grabbed six rebounds and handed out six assists. But two days later in Dallas, Plumlee struggled to make much of an impact. He scored three points, went 1-6 from the free-throw line and played only 19 minutes.
On Wednesday, Plumlee will have his hands full against one of the NBA’s elite big men. Cousins leads New Orleans in scoring (25.3 ppg) and rebounding (12.3 rpg), and is third in assists (5.2 apg). He does a little bit of everything for the Pelicans, including chucking from deep. Cousins is attempting 6.7 three-pointers per game — more than guards such as Kemba Walker, Devin Booker and J.J. Redick.
“Hopefully… he shoots 15 of them and makes maybe five,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said when his team was preparing to play the Pelicans in November.
If Cousins dominates the battle against Plumlee inside, the Nuggets could be in trouble. Malone doesn’t have many options to throw at Cousins if Plumlee gets in foul trouble. It’s possible he calls upon Darrell Arthur, who’s averaging eight minutes per game, if things go south.
Nuggets look to correct road issues
At home, the Nuggets have looked like your friend in college who handled their double-major course load with ease. On the road, they’ve looked like your friend in college who constantly spilled Mexican food on his shirt after a night of drinking. Seriously, look at these splits…
- Home: 10-2, 111.6 offensive rating, 103.3 defensive rating, +8.3 net rating
- Road: 3-8, 101.8 offensive rating, 111.5 defensive rating, -9.3 net rating
The Nuggets have struggled to be competitive away from Pepsi Center. They’ve already suffered blowout losses to the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Jazz and Mavericks. Denver’s three road wins have come against bottom feeders Atlanta, Brooklyn and Sacramento. Wednesday’ game, which tips at 6 p.m. MT, represents the Nuggets’ first chance to earn a road win over a team that’s in position to make the playoffs.