Denver Nuggets create matchup problems for New Orleans Pelicans

With a smaller, quick and more offensive lineup with Tyreke Evans as a starter, the New Orleans Pelicans revved up the pace often in Friday’s victory against Milwaukee.

However, as the Pelicans (25-37) get set to play the Denver Nuggets (27-34) at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Smoothie King Center, Pelicans coach Monty Williams knows that can be fool’s gold.

Williams wants his team to play quickly but take its time. That can be achieved by sharing the ball better, he said.

“We have to recognize that ball movement is big for us on offense, and that helps our defense,” he said. “When we move the ball, we have better floor balance when we’re knocking down shots. Now, we can get back in transition.”

With Evans and the Pelicans aggressively going to the lane Friday night, the Bucks were able to get fast-break dunks, mostly in the third quarter.

The Nuggets are built for transition, and even though coach Brian Shaw has them playing in more of a structured offense than in past seasons under George Karl, Denver still has the hand of speedy point guard Ty Lawson on the throttle. Turnovers and bad shots will find Lawson running the ball back right down an opponent’s throat, Williams said.

In the past three games since Lawson returned from a fractured rib, the Nuggets have averaged 125 points against Minnesota, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 27 points and 11.3 assists.

In each of those games, Denver has had one of quarter of 40 points or more. They have won the past two games heading into a five-game road trip.

All-Star power forward Anthony Davis said the Pelicans still have to lock in on the Nuggets defensively. That’s what happened in the teams’ last meeting, on Dec. 27 in New Orleans. The Pelicans held the Nuggets in check for the final 2 minutes, 40 seconds, getting three missed shots and two turnovers in seven possessions. That enabled New Orleans to score on its final five trips, pull away and even the series at 1-1.

“We have to play with energy,” Davis said. “We know Ty is going to get it and go. When one of our guys drives, we have to make sure everybody sprints back.”

The previous meeting took place before injuries depleted New Orleans’ roster. The different lineup makes the big challenge against the Nuggets even bigger.

The Nuggets rebound well. They pounded the Pelicans’ bigger lineup Dec. 12 in Denver, and the team that has won the rebounding has won the scoreboard in the past two matchups. They are deep and athletic, with power forward Kenneth Faried coming off the bench as luxury to envy.

Davis said what makes the Nuggets effective rebounders is that they are active and focused on the task.

“When a shot goes up, we have to find a guy to box out and make sure we get that rebound,” he said. “But they don’t just stand in one spot. They usually have three, four guys crashing the boards, always moving, and you don’t know where the shot is going to come from. And (their rebounders) are coming full speed ahead of you. They are good offensive rebounders. So, it’s tough.”

Williams said he’s concerned about size in the matchup of Evans, 6-foot-6, against Wilson Chandler, 6-8. Chandler will try to exploit things with post-ups near the basket or mid-post-ups that can allow him to shoot short jump shots, drive or pass when a double team comes.

“This is one of those games where it’s not just the rebounding,” Williams said. “(Evans) is going to be matched up against a bigger guy, so our team defense is going to have to be on point.”

That may be where small forward Al-Farouq Aminu can be a big contributor. Relegated to the bench with the promotion of Evans, Aminu, 6-9, can bring relief to Evans in a role that is his forte.

“(Aminu’s) team defense is probably one of the best on our team, between he and A.D.,” Williams said. “And then he has the ability to guard guys who are 6-8, 6-9 and long and present problems.”