DENVER — A raucous Pepsi Center crowd turned sour Sunday night as the Denver Nuggets lost an early nine point lead against the New Orleans Pelicans at Pepsi Center, eventually falling 115-90 in a game that most had chalked up as an easy win for the playoff hopeful Nuggets.
Fans who had started the night cheering loudly for a team that had full control over their own playoff destiny ended with them booing a team that looked set to be out of the playoffs by the next day.
A 26-6 run for New Orleans in the first half turned the game on it’s head. From that point on, the Nuggets looked like a shell of themselves, taking bad shots on offense and allowing easy buckets on defense.
It was the worst possible time for Denver to play their worst game of the season. The Nuggets struggled on both ends of the floor, giving up an average of 28.75-points a quarter while shooting just 38-percent on the offensive end.
Denver’s offense, the NBA’s best since the start of 2017, turned into a sloppy mess of isolation plays and missed baskets.
Nikola Jokic, who has become the team’s premier player this season, played perhaps the worst game of his entire year. He scored just 8-points and recorded 2-rebounds and 13-assists. To compensate, Jokic tried to force his offensive game, which not only didn’t help things for Denver—it made things worse.
Jokic became so frustrated at one point that head coach Michael Malone benched the 22-year-old near the end of the second half. He returned to start the third quarter, but things didn’t improve much for him. By the time he sat on the bench for good, the Pelicans’ lead had grown to more than 30-points.
To say this loss comes at an inopportune time for the Nuggets would be an enormous understatement. Locked in a tight race with the Portland Trailblazers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, the Nuggets came into the game in full control of their playoff destiny. Back-to-back dominant and surprise wins over the Indiana Pacers and defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers had filled fans and players with renewed confidence in this team. Now, the Nuggets have fallen to within a half a game of Portland.
The Blazers are expected to beat the lowly Los Angeles Lakers tonight. If so, Denver will fall out of the playoff picture.
Sunday’s outcome sets up what could wind up being a winner take all elimination game in Portland this Tuesday night. For their part, the Nuggets must hope they’ve gotten the hiccups out of their system.