Pelicans’ lose fifth straight, falling to Nuggets, 99-98

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) attempts to spin past Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic...
Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) attempts to spin past Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during Tuesday's game in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)(Matthew Hinton | AP)
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 10:08 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nikola Jokic capped a 25-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist performance in his return from hamstring tightness with a go-ahead floater in the paint with 16.9 seconds left, and the Denver Nuggets escaped with a 99-98 victory over the undermanned Pelicans on Tuesday night (Jan. 24) at the Smoothie King Center.

Jamal Murray scored 25 points for the Nuggets, who led for nearly the entire game and by as many as 19 points before New Orleans stormed back in the fourth quarter to take its only lead of the second half at 98-97 with 36.9 seconds left.

After Jokic put Denver back in front, the Pelicans had three shots to win it in the final seconds before losing their fifth straight.

McCollum’s missed turnaround was rebounded by Pelicans forward Herb Jones, whose putback was blocked out of bounds by Bruce Brown.

After a timeout, the Pelicans got the ball to McCollum for a corner 3-point attempt that clanged off the rim, leaving him 0 for 8 from deep on an otherwise productive, 20-point night.

Down by as many as 18 during the third quarter, the Pelicans surged back with the help of 6-foot point guard Jose Alvarado, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the last 13 minutes with an array of crowd-pleasing driving floaters and layups.

Alvardo’s exploits caused Denver coach Mike Malone to disgustedly call timeout three times in the final period. Fortunately for Denver, Jokic showed no signs of rust or discomfort after left hamstring tightness had sidelined him for two games. He wound up playing 36 minutes, hitting 11 of 14 shots, including two from deep.

Jokic scored 11 points in the first quarter and subbed out with his team up 26-24. When he returned, Denver’s lead had grown to 15, thanks to a 13-0 run during which Murray hit a 3, a turnaround fade and a driving layup.

Murray wound up scoring 16 points in the second quarter, including an alley-oop jam of Caldwell-Pope’s fast-break lob after his steal of McCollum’s cross-court pass.

By halftime, Murray had 19 points and Denver led 63-47.

Notes: Jonas Valanciunas scored 14 points and Willy Hernangomez added 12. ... Rookie shooting guard Dyson Daniels hurt his right ankle when he landed awkwardly on Denver forward Zeke Nnaji’s foot after attempting a floater in the paint. He needed help getting off the court and did not return. ... Brandon Ingram (left large toe) missed his 29th straight game. ... Zion Williamson (right hamstring) missed his 11th straight. ... Naji Marshall (right large toe) missed his third straight. ... The Pelicans are home again Wednesday night to face Minnesota.

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