sports 3 days ago

DeMarcus Cousins powers New Orleans Pelicans to victory over Denver Nuggets

The Denver Post — Gina Mizell The Denver Post

Dec. 07--NEW ORLEANS -- The Denver Nuggets' scouting report on the Pelicans emphasized that star center DeMarcus Cousins preferred to attack the basket with his right hand. Guard Jrue Holiday, meanwhile, would aim to complement by driving to his left.

And yet, Denver could not slow down New Orleans' inside-outside tandem. Cousins racked up 40 points and added 22 rebounds and four blocks. Holiday totaled 27 points and seven assists. And the Pelicans shot 53.5 percent from the floor in a 123-114 victory Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center, sparking Nuggets' coach Michael Malone to dish out a harsh dose of reality about his team's continued road woes.

"It's becoming the same story every single night," Malone said. "And until our guys start taking it personally, until our guys start understanding the importance of playing defense and guarding your man 1-on-1, forget playoffs. That is a word we should not use with this team.

"Let's just talk about being real honest. We are a bad basketball team on the road. We are a very good team at home. Unfortunately, in the NBA, you have to play 41 games on the road, and right now we are a bad road team."

With the loss, Denver falls to 0-2 to start its six-game road trip and to 3-9 overall away from Pepsi Center.

The matchup was missing the bulk of its frontcourt star power on both sides, as Denver's Nikola Jokic (sprained ankle) and Paul Millsap (wrist surgery) and New Orleans' Anthony Davis (groin) all sat out due to injuries. But the Pelicans (13-12) still had Cousins, who anchored Wednesday's high-scoring attack after allowing the Nuggets to roll up a season-high 146 points in last month's first meeting between these two teams.

Cousins would have surpassed his season-high in points if he had not missed two free throws in the final minute. He dropped 15 points in the second quarter, including a nifty three-point play in which he crossed over Kenneth Faried at the top of the key, spun in the lane and converted through contact. He stepped out to drill two 3-pointers in the third quarter. He assisted on a Darius Miller 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give New Orleans a double-digit lead that would stand until Denver's Juancho Hernangomez hit a 3 with less than 10 seconds to play.

"When you don't give any effort to guarding him and you don't take it personal and accept the challenge of guarding him, of course (he'll have a big game)," Malone said. "He's a great player. He went out there and did whatever he wanted -- and did it with ease."

Yet the defensive miscues, Malone said, popped up "everywhere." New Orleans scored 56 points in the paint and made 12 shots from beyond the 3-point line. The Pelicans out-rebounded Denver 49-40, helping them total 14 second-chance points. E'Twaun Moore hit four 3-pointers, while Rajon Rondo finished with 11 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

"We let them play to their tendencies," said reserve big man Mason Plumlee, adding the Nuggets' attention to detail in film sessions must improve. "You gotta make guys beat with you with their 'B' and their 'C' moves, but they beat us with their 'A' moves tonight."

For much of the game, though, Denver kept up with New Orleans' offensive firepower. The Nuggets (13-11) led by 10 points in the first quarter and by seven in the second. They were within three when Malik Beasley opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer, before the Pelicans used a 20-6 run to quickly extend their advantage to 20 points midway through the period. The Nuggets shot just 8-of-26 in that fourth quarter, with six of those makes coming in the final 5:12 when the outcome was already decided.

Without Jokic and Millsap, Denver got the bulk of its output from its backcourt, led by a season-high 24 points from Gary Harris to go along with four assists and two steals. Will Barton, who returned to the starting lineup, scored 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter and added seven rebounds. Emmanuel Mudiay scored 17 off the bench, while Jamal Murray notched 15 points and four assists.

Denver will likely need to continue navigating life without both Jokic and Millsap on Friday at Orlando. Malone and Jokic have both expressed optimism about his recovery, but project sometime next week as his earliest possible return date.

The good news for the Nuggets? Against the Magic, they won't need to try to stop DeMarcus Cousins.

The bad news? According to their coach, the Nuggets' problems do not stem from the star they faced Wednesday.

"My message is stop feeling sorry for yourself (and) take pride in your defense," Malone said. "Because if you don't, the same thing is going to keep happening. I'm not gonna play the same guys over and over, when we give up, every single night, 110 or 120 (points).

"It's not in my nature. I'm not gonna sit there and watch that much longer, I'll tell you that much."

___

(c)2017 The Denver Post

Visit The Denver Post at www.denverpost.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices