The Denver Nuggets struggled at times through a challenging six-game road trip without star center Nikola Jokic. They return home Friday night to host the New Orleans Pelicans with Jokic - who has missed seven straight games with an ankle injury - nearing a return.
Jokic was medically cleared to play but did not see any action in Wednesday’s 124-118 loss at Boston, which gave Denver a 2-4 mark on the trip and a 5-11 road record overall. “I didn’t think he was ready,” coach Michael Malone told reporters of Jokic. “(The medical staff) might say he’s ready. But for myself and talking with him, it’s not just, ‘Is the ankle ready?’ It’s, ‘Is his head ready?’ I didn’t think he was ready to play tonight. I wanted to protect him, so I made that decision.” One of the Nuggets’ four losses on the trip came Dec. 6 at New Orleans, which exchanged wins and losses in a string of high-scoring games this month. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis combined for 51 points, 23 rebounds, nine assists and five blocks in a 115-108 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, FSN New Orleans, Altitude (Denver)
ABOUT THE PELICANS (15-14): Cousins and Davis both shot 10-for-16 against the Bucks while E’Twaun Moore continued his sizzling pace with an 8-for-11 effort, including 4-of-6 3-pointers. “His confidence is very high,” Davis - who returned from a one-game absence due to an adductor strain - told reporters. “He’s playing at an elite level. He’s shooting the ball from 3, mid-range, getting to the line, layups. He’s playing well defensively.” Including his career-high 36-point performance at Houston on Monday, Moore is shooting 63.3 percent in December while making 29-of-43 3-pointers.
ABOUT THE NUGGETS (15-13): While Jokic’s absence - as well as that of forward Paul Millsap (wrist) - leaves a hole along the front line, Denver’s backcourt continues to shine. Gary Harris scored a career-high 36 points at Boston and fellow starting guard Jamal Murray had his second straight 28-point effort. Will Barton, another guard who had been heating up of late, was held out of Wednesday’s loss due to a back issue but he was probable heading into the game.
1. Murray scored 31 points and Harris added 22 in a 146-114 rout of the Pelicans on Nov. 17.
2. Cousins entered Thursday ranked sixth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), tied for first in double-doubles (22) and first in turnovers per game (5.1).
3. Denver C Mason Plumlee is making 66.7 percent of his shots in six starts, compared to 54.1 in 22 games as a reserve.
PREDICTION: Nuggets 115, Pelicans 113