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NBA: Denver Nuggets @ New Orleans Pelicans preview

Two of the top three in the West clash in Sunday’s early clash, with the New Orleans Pelicans out to protect their great home record.

The Denver Nuggets looked like good candidates for a strong regular season from the start, as they welcomed back two of their top three players from injury. While things have gone to plan, this weekend poses a stern test for them.

Can the Nuggets continue their chase of the Phoenix Suns at the top of the standings with a win in New Orleans? Or will the home form of the Pels prevail?

What: Denver Nuggets @ New Orleans Pelicans
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
When: Sunday December 4th, 15:30 EST
How to watch: NBA Pass

Pelicans on the rise

The New Orleans Pelicans have continued their rise through 2022, going from a brilliant finish to last season to third in the Western Conference. 

Willie Green continues to improve the side, but they are not yet seen as serious title contenders despite an impressive starting five.

The Pelicans are +1100 shots to make it out of the West, behind a Dallas Mavericks outfit that slipped out of the Play-in spots after their latest defeat. 

The Pels can look to Sunday’s opponents for sympathy, as the Denver Nuggets still haven’t forced their way into the supposed top tier in the NBA. 

They’re +600 shots to make the Finals, despite sitting 1.5 games back off top spot in the conference.

Returning stars playing key role

One thing the pair share is that they’ve built off solid displays last season with players returning from injury. Zion Williamson has slotted straight into the Pelicans side after missing last term, while the Nuggets welcomed back Michael Porter Jr and Jamal Murray.

The Nuggets relied on another MVP season from Nikola Jokic last term, but he’s been reunited with the rest of Denver’s core as they look to make a serious push this season. 

However, Porter Jr has been ruled out with injury once again, meaning he’ll miss the weekend visit to Louisiana.

Pels' sharp defence can make the difference

The Pelicans have taken a huge leap forward defensively, having had a reputation for being one of the most open teams in the NBA. They come into this game with the third-best defensive rating in the league, conceding 108 points per 100 possessions.

Contrast that with the Nuggets, who rank 26th in defence, sandwiched between the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic. That’s a trade-off which was always likely when they welcomed back Porter Jr and Murray, but it’s an issue which could hurt them in New Orleans.

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The Nuggets being too open could cost them at a Pels side who have won five of their last six games. Zion Williamson is in excellent form after posting back-to-back 30-point games, he’s in a great position to cause problems for the Nuggets this weekend.

Home form could swing it

The Pelicans have another stat in their favour, having won eight of their 11 home matches so far this term. While the Nuggets have one of the few positive away records among the contenders this season, they are fresh off a defeat at the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night. They’re quickly on the road again in a back-to-back, making a big clash even tougher.

The Pelicans sit as a top-five team in terms of points scored per game, they’re the only side to sit in the top five both offensively and defensively. 

Not only should they do well against the Nuggets, but they’re also worth considering at +600 to finish as the Western Conference’s top seed this term.

The Pelicans have put themselves towards the top of the standings on merit. The only setback for them going into this one is the absence of Herb Jones, who looks like an All-Defensive team candidate just over a year after being drafted in the second round of the draft.

Without Jones, the Pelicans may struggle to matchup against Murray, with the Nuggets’ point guard posting a combined 52 points across his last two games. 

These two teams are in great shape going forward and they can both put on a show against the respective defences.

The Pelicans are under strength at the back, while the Nuggets are underperforming on that end of the court, so these two top sides should produce a high-scoring game. 

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