New Orleans Pelicans: Grades for nail-biting loss vs. Nuggets

(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images) /
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Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images) /

Only the New Orleans Pelicans can trail for basically an entire game and then almost take it to overtime with a barrage of late fourth quarter threes.

Regardless, that late energy from the Pelicans was to no avail, as the team’s hopes of making the play-in tournament were further dimmed after a nail-biting but inevitable 112-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets on the road.

Stan Van Gundy’s team was fighting from behind the entire game. It was a game of runs, but none of them ever really put the Pelicans in the driver’s seat. Instead, New Orleans trailed at the end of every quarter and, by the time they made it close, it was a classic case of too little, too late.

light. Related Story. Breaking down the Pels' two-big lineups

The end of Wednesday night’s game was exhilarating and exemplified the sheer fun that NBA basketball can be. Late threes from Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Ingram dragged the Pelicans back into a game that looked finished. Then, with the Pels only two points down, a turnover from Nikola Jokic gave New Orleans a great chance to take the contest to overtime.

However, the Pelicans didn’t really get to be the masters of their own destiny. A great pass from Ingram found an open Zion Williamson under the rim. New Orleans’ all-star was “blocked” by Jokic to ice the game but, in truth, it was likely a foul call. Yet another one that Williamson does not get rewarded with because of his utter physicality.

The uncalled foul was undoubtedly a tough break, but it’s ultimately the byproduct of a wake-up call that came too late. Had the Pels played with the intensity of their last few minutes for the entire contest, they wouldn’t have been in that position to begin with.

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

Guard. New Orleans Pelicans. LONZO BALL. A-.

Lonzo Ball stuffed the stat sheet against the Nuggets and turned in a memorable performance.

The Pelicans point guard was everywhere in the aptly named Ball Arena in Denver. Ball led the Pelicans in minutes (36), rebounds (12), assists (12), blocks (two), and steals (four). He also pitched in with 16 points, shooting 44 percent from three.

This was a thoroughly complete outing by the oft-questioned Ball that resulted in his first triple-double of the season. Some will inevitably point to his four turnovers, but that is a perfectly decent ratio considering the number of assists he got.

After being involved in everything good that was going for the Pelicans on offense, Ball was also really valuable on defense. He was in the passing lanes all night long, played with active hands, and was generally a nuisance on this end of the floor. It’s also worth mentioning that Ball defended the much larger Michael Porter Jr. for stretches of the game and did a perfectly acceptable job on him.

This is the second game in a row that Stan Van Gundy has trusted his team’s premier guard to be a defensive stopper on a bigger wing. First, it was Paul George against the Clippers—another good defensive showing—and now Porter. I am intrigued by the possibility of fleshing out Ball’s defensive versatility even more.