The Nuggets are riding a two-game losing streak and are staring a daunting road trip in the face. Following Saturday’s disheartening 120-112 loss to the Pelicans, who were without Anthony Davis and coming off a win in Phoenix the night before, Nikola Jokic said the Nuggets need to do some soul searching ahead of upcoming games against the Spurs, Lakers and Warriors. “We need to stay together, stay focused,” said Jokic, who was ruthlessly efficient with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists despite getting whistled for four fouls in 21 minutes. “We need to kind of think about where we want to go, and that’s it.”
The Nuggets (42-20) blew a chance to take over first place in the Western Conference with their loss Thursday night to Utah. Saturday’s defeat dropped them 1.5 games back of Golden State. “I think he’s right,” said Monte Morris. “If we want to be as good as we say we want to be, we gotta win games like this.”
Jokic claimed the Nuggets didn’t overlook the Pelicans, who sit 6.5 games back of the No. 8 seed and remained ensconced in the Davis-fueled trade drama.
“They didn’t have Anthony Davis the last time we played them, and we barely beat them,” Jokic said of their 105-99 win at the end of January.
Morris wasn’t so sure. He said the Nuggets took them for granted as Julius Randle bulldozed his way to 28 of their 62 points in the paints. They also got cooked on the 3-point line, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 40 percent from deep, and burned in transition.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone could only throw his hands in frustration after Jamal Murray dribbled into traffic and lost one of their 16 turnovers. Will Barton was the biggest culprit with four miscues on the night, followed by three more from Gary Harris.
“They kicked our ass,” Malone said. “Turnovers, threw the ball all over the gym, 27 points off turnovers, 62 in our paint, 19 on the glass, blah, blah, blah.” According to Morris, there was no need for Malone to light into his team after the loss.
“He knows we pissed down our leg tonight, and it was on us,” Morris said. “We didn’t come to play. It wasn’t much to talk about. He knows that.”
In the immediate aftermath, there might not have been. There certainly is moving forward. Saturday marked the first time since Oct. 20 that the Nuggets’ intended starting five – Jokic, Murray, Harris, Barton and Paul Millsap – all started a game together. That meant tweaking a bench unit that is already in the midst of an adjustment period with Isaiah Thomas.
Against the Pelicans it was Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley and Morris that accounted for the foundation of the second unit. Thomas had 12 points on 14 shots in just 16 minutes, one shy of Murray’s team-high 15 attempts. After a first half where he picked his spots within the flow of the offense, he settled for far more one-on-one plays with the Nuggets trailing in the second half.
The addition of Thomas has adversely affected Morris. In the six games he’s been back, Morris’ shooting has dropped from 49 percent from the field to 39 percent, and he’s plummeted from a 44 percent 3-point shooter to a 15 percent long range shooter.