New Orleans Pelicans: Grades for close loss vs. Nuggets

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /
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Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans suffered a nail-biting 113-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the first night of a back-to-back.

The Pels were led by Zion Williamson’s career night, but it wasn’t enough. After beating Denver on the road just two games ago, the roles were reversed at the Smoothie King Center. New Orleans led for most of the game, with the Nuggets at one point not being on top since being up 4-2 in the first quarter, only to succumb in the last period.

New Orleans remains twelfth in the Western Conference after this defeat, two games behind a qualifying spot for the play-in tournament.

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The Denver Nuggets came into Friday night’s game at the Smoothie King Center after a busy trade deadline. The Nuggets added Aaron Gordon to their roster in a marquee trade, as well as reuniting with JaVale McGee and incorporating Gary Clark. Neither of the three featured.

The Pels had a quieter deadline, but still brought in James Johnson and Wesley Iwundu from the Dallas Mavericks. They weren’t available to play either. This deal meant shipping out JJ Redick and Nicolò Melli to the lone star state.

I wondered if Melli’s absence would mean some one-time minutes for Naji Marshall, Wenyen Gabriel, or Will Magnay given that the Italian had featured in the Pels’ last games, but Stan Van Gundy went with a slightly shorter rotation instead.

Here are the player grades for the Pels’ loss against the Nuggets, starting with my personal MVP:

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Denver Nuggets: Grading the best player

A+. . Big. New Orleans Pelicans. ZION WILLIAMSON

Zion Williamson was unstoppable for the New Orleans Pelicans, posting a career-high 39 points along with 10 rebounds and five assists.

The signs of utter dominance were there from the start. Williamson scored 15 points in the first quarter alone. Much like two games ago, the Nuggets had no response for the Pels’ all-star. He punished Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, JaMychal Green, and everyone Denver threw at him alike.

Williamson’s tour de force was also on display down the stretch. Even with the game in its dying minutes, Williamson got to the rack at will. It didn’t matter that Denver was singularly focused on him, as Williamson scored 10 points in the last period.

Still, some won’t be happy with how the end of the game played out. Williamson didn’t take a shot in the last two minutes. He set up Brandon Ingram for a wide open three—more on that later—but the offense stopped running through him.

It’s a shame that Williamson’s best night of his career so far ended in a loss.