The New Orleans Pelicans had been playing with lots of energy in launching a four-game winning streak.
However, they were no match for the high-intensity Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at Smoothie King Center, falling 93-85.
And, the Pelicans may have endured a much bigger loss, Anthony Davis, the starting power forward for the Western Conference All-Stars, came out of the game with what the team described as a left groin injury.
The loss not only snapped New Orleans’ longest streak of the season, but ended a seven-game skid for the Nuggets (19-27), a talented team prone to such streaks the past two seasons.
“We established a style of play,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, we had a bad shooting night. We started the game off poorly, for whatever reason, and in the fourth quarter, when we really needed to score, we didn’t score at all. Sort of frustrating from that standpoint.”
The Pelicans (24-22), fell to 2-1 in their six-game home stand with a game Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers, who are fifth in the Western Conference playoff race. The loss also was the first after five straight victories against Western teams.
The Pelicans, who didn’t score in the last 2:53 of the game, shot just 39 percent, including 26.3 percent in the fourth quarter. Against the Nuggets’ surprisingly active defenders, the Pelicans’ encouraging ball movement that had been present during the winning streak suddenly was abandoned.
“We defended tonight,” said Denver coach Brian Shaw, his team 2-0 against the Pelicans this season after having lost its past two games in New Orleans. “We didn’t turn the ball over (eight), and I thought we got timely contributions.”
Point guard Tyreke Evans, who played despite flu-like symptoms, scored a game-high 25 points but had just two assists. He’d had 12 in each of the past two games and 36 during the winning streak. Davis had 24 points and 12 rebounds.
“The have a good lineup of guards and small forwards and they did a good job of (playing the passing lanes),” Evans said. “And, I don’t think we did a good job of taking advantage of it.”
Meanwhile, Denver shooting guard Arron Afflalo, a New Orleans tormentor the past few seasons, scored a team-high 20 points, and backcourt mate Ty Lawson, who had just five points, dished out 13 assists, as Denver had 30 assists on 39 baskets.
The Nuggets shot 45.9 percent, but more impressively were 10-of-17 (58.8 percent) on 3-point attempts and had a 30-15 advantage in bench scoring.
New Orleans had fought uphill nearly all game but trailed by two midway through the fourth. But things began to look bleak when Denver led 86-80 with four minutes left.
However, Davis, who had returned at 8:44 of the fourth after being escorted from the game with 1:56 left in the third, hit a runner. Then, Eric Gordon, shooting just 3-of-15, sank a big 3-pointer that brought the Pelicans to one point of the lead with 2:53 showing.
But Afflalo answered with a 3 after a Nuggets timeout, and Denver shut down the Pelicans the rest of the way.
The Nuggets had set the tone in the first quarter by denying the Pelicans at the rim with their length and getting deflections and making it difficult to pass. They led 28-17 at the end of the quarter.
At halftime it was 49-39, with 20-year-old 7-foot, 280-pound center Jusuf Nurkic scoring 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting, mainly from outside.
Nurkic also keyed Denver’s defense.
Evans, who had five points and one assist in the first half, began taking matters into his hands when the third quarter began. He scored 15 points in the quarter, as the teams entered the fourth tied at 70.
However, the Nuggets clamped down in the fourth. With Davis ailing, and Gordon, Ryan Anderson (1-of-4) and Evans (2-of-8) struggling in the fourth, the Pelicans found themselves behind this time and couldn’t make a late push, scoring just 15 points in the quarter.
Point guard Jrue Holiday, out since Jan. 14 with what the Pelicans say is a stress reaction in his lower right leg, said after Wednesday’s shoot-around practice that he is no closer to returning. The team said Holiday is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. He has been out two weeks as of Wednesday. Holiday said he had no timetable for his return. “I’m sure that before I come back, they will run tests on it, but right now nothing has changed.”