Playing an eight-man rotation made up primarily of front-court players was a lot less fun the second time around for the Nuggets after a 119-104 scrimmage loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night in Orlando, Fla.
A few days after Bol Bol’s standout performance led the short-handed Nuggets to a win over Washington, New Orleans hit 41.7% of its 36 3-pointers and opened an early lead the Pelicans would not relinquish.
“It’s really hard to judge and analyze where we’re at when you have four of your five starters not playing,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I thought, obviously, there are a lot of things to clean up: 21 turnovers and 27 points (off turnovers). We gave up 10 3s in the first half alone. Fourth quarter (giving up) 34 points, but it’s hard to really judge where we’re at to be very honest because we’ve been very limited with the amount of bodies we’ve had. Guys are coming in slowly but surely.”
Saturday, the Nuggets started Nikola Jokic, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, Bol and Mason Plumlee. Paul Millsap, one of the regular starters, was unavailable after missing a COVID-19 test and facing another mandatory quarantine. Malone also opted to sit Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton, leaving a total of eight available players with Troy Daniels, Noah Vonleh and Tyler Cook featured as reserves. New Orleans played without Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Zion Williamson.
“My No. 1 objective right now is to get healthy, to get guys back in the lineup and get them out there playing,” Malone said.
Bol started hot, making a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers, but the Pelicans led by 13 after the first quarter. The Nuggets cut the Pelicans’ advantage to eight early in the fourth quarter but failed to get any closer. Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the Pelicans with 21 points, while Daniels scored a game-high 28 after hitting 7 of 10 shots from 3-point range. Plumlee added 18 points and 13 rebounds; Bol scored 15 on 19 shots from the field; Grant added 13, while Jokic finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
“Maybe conditioning-wise we can assess where we’re at,” Jokic answered when asking if the performance was indicative of where the team was at one week from its first meaningful game, “but today we didn’t have basically four starting players.”
Some of the other regular starters — Murray, Harris, Barton and Millsap — could get a shot to show the coaches where they’re at when the Nuggets play their final scrimmage Monday against Orlando.
“It’s just a shame that we have to play with eight players for so many minutes," Malone said. "Torrey Craig got cleared two days ago, and he has to play damn near 30 minutes tonight. We’re asking a lot of our guys right now. They’re giving us all they have. We need help. We need to get healthy. That’s the No.1 thing.”