DENVER — If you don’t out-hustle the Nuggets in Denver, it won’t work out well.
That’s the lesson the New Orleans Pelicans learned Friday as they lost to the Nuggets 117-97 in the Pepsi Center.
The Pelicans found their rhythm early, starting the game on a 14-2 run capped by a layup from Tyreke Evans. Those early minutes would prove to be the high point for the Pelicans.
“We didn’t execute well after (the run),” forward Ryan Anderson said. “That’s the kind of start we want, but (the Nuggets) kind of controlled the tempo after that. We had a lot of energy to start the game — just didn’t follow through.”
That lack of energy plagued the Pelicans the rest of the way, infecting the team’s offense, defense, bench and overall hustle.
“I didn’t think we ran with pace tonight,” coach Monty Williams said. “We were slow getting the ball down the floor, we were getting into late clock situations and that’s always a bad sign for us.”
The Pelicans offense operates best when the ball is moving crisply, flowing freely. On Friday, the ball seemed to stick and not quite find the open man at the right time.
“Our guys knew at halftime that we weren’t rolling and, at the end of the game, we felt the same way,” Williams said.
While the Nuggets only had one more rebound and one more steal than the Pelicans, they seemed to simply out-work the Pelicans, trying harder on loose ball situations.
“They got almost every (loose) ball tonight,” Williams said. “They were quicker to the ball. I cant say they wanted it more. I know we wanted it; we just didn’t get it.”
Anthony Davis, who led the Pelicans with 18 points and eight rebounds, agreed.
“They got every 50-50 ball,” Davis said. “Those turned into a layup, a dunk or a 3 or something good for them. We have to have more hustle, diving on the floor and make sure we come up with those 50-50 balls.”
While Davis led the Pelicans in points, rebounds and blocks, he also led them in turnovers with four — a terribly uncharacteristic number for him. Davis had gone three games without a turnover before Friday.
The Pelicans also got next to nothing from their bench, which scored only 27 points and had little rhythm on either side of the ball.
On a night when no other starter did much of note in the first three quarters — by the fourth, the game was already decided — the Pelicans needed someone from their bench to provide some sort of spark. That never happened.
Anderson had an off night shooting, scoring just 10 points and missing all five of his 3-point attempts. No other player from the Pelicans bench scored in double digits, while the Nuggets bench scored 45 points overall, including 17 from a rejuvenated Danilo Gallinari.
Williams praised Anderson’s defense against DeMarcus Cousins after Tuesday’s win against the Sacramento Kings, but Anderson — as well as Davis and the rest of the Pelicans interior defense, playing their third straight game without Omer Asik, who was scratched just before the game — struggled against the energy and activity of the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried.
It all added up to a forgettable Friday night in Denver.
“We should (hang onto this feeling), because we don’t want this anymore,” Williams said. “We have an identity, and when we stray away from that, we get this result.”