NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Denver coach Mike Malone decided the Nuggets should not in fact do whatever it takes to stop Anthony Davis.
Instead, the Nuggets stuck to their usual defensive principles against New Orleans and it paid off — barely.
Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and Denver survived a dominant performance by Davis to defeat the Pelicans 107-102 in both teams’ regular season opener Wednesday night.
“When you play against a great player, you have a problem you need to answer: Are you going to shut him down and create problems elsewhere, or are you going to let him get his and hope nobody else goes off?,” Malone said.
Denver did the latter and Davis wound up with 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His prolific play helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes.
“We gave them too many easy looks in the beginning of the game,” Davis said. “We gave ourselves a chance. We’ve just got to play like we played in the third and fourth quarter in the beginning of the game.”
Davis didn’t get much help offensively. The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58.
Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E’Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.
Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver, Wilson Chandler added 12 points and Kenneth Faried finished with 14 rebounds — six on the offensive end to help Denver finished with a 14-3 advantage in second-chance points.
Denver built its largest lead when Barton hit a 3 and a layup to spark a 9-2 run that made 60-46 in the final minute of the second quarter.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, staying in attack mode, whether I’m scoring for myself of making plays for others,” Barton said.
The Nuggets still led by 10, at 87-77, when Kenneth Faried’s 5-foot hook shot opened scoring in the fourth quarter, but New Orleans managed to keep its deficit within single digits most of the final period. Davis pulled the Pelicans as close as 100-98 when he cut into the lane for a layup with 2:32 to go.
Davis didn’t fault his teammates for the loss, saying their shot selection was decent but that they missed shots they often make. He was more inclined to criticize himself for a few missed shots from close range and his late turnover.
“I’m going to have to — probably not 50 every night — but try to get somewhere along those lines every game to give ourselves a chance,” Davis said.
Nuggets rookie guard Jamal Murray, taken seventh overall in last summer’s draft — one spot behind Pelicans rookie Buddy Hield — played 13 minutes and was 0 of 2 shooting, finishing with a point on a free throw. Hield missed the first three shots of his NBA career before scoring his first points on a driving layup. He finished with four points on 2 of 8 shooting in nearly 17 minutes off the bench.
OFF THE MARK
Both teams let fly frequently from 3-point range, but often inaccurately. Denver missed 16 of 24 from deep. The Pelicans made only three of 19.
Nuggets: Between Gallinari, Nikola Jokic and the 7-foot- Nurkic, Denver opened the game with three players 6-10 or taller on the floor at a time when a number of teams are favoring smaller lineups that feature the quicker, more versatile players on their rosters. “Obviously the trend is going away from what we do, but we’re not worried about what the trends are,” Malone said. “We’re going to do what we think is best for us, but within our game you’ll see a lot of different lineups.”
Pelicans: Before the game, the Pelicans wore black T-shirts during warm-ups honoring Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was fatally shot last May when he forced his way into an apartment that he had mistaken for that of his girlfriend. The shirts had the letters “BDJ” on the chest with Dejean-Jones’ No. 31 underneath. “It’s unfortunate what happened the fact that he’s not with us any longer, but he was part of our family and we just wanted to do something to pay tribute to him,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
– By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer
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