Finally back at home, Pelicans handle Nuggets

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- The Pelicans' Tyreke Evans shoots over Denver's Randy Foye on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, in the New Orleans Arena.
Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- The Pelicans' Tyreke Evans shoots over Denver's Randy Foye on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, in the New Orleans Arena.

This was a different New Orleans Pelicans team than the one that lost to the Denver Nuggets on the road 13 days ago.

And, playing with power forward Anthony Davis and swingman Tyreke Evans, who were injured for the first meeting, it was a different result Friday night.

The Pelicans built sizable leads from the first quarter on and fended off repeated challenges to take a 105-89 victory at New Orleans Arena.

“We did a good job throwing the first punch. And once I got in, I knew I was going to be aggressive,” said Evans, who continued his recent streak of excellent play with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds as he led six Pelicans scoring in double figures. “It was kind of like payback. We knew we could have won that game in Denver if we were healthy.”

The victory was the second in a row after four losses on a tough road trip and the third home win in a row for the Pelicans (13-14).

And it was their first win this season over a team with a winning record coming into the game.

Denver (14-14), which played without injured starting power forward Kenneth Faried, lost its fifth in a row.

Like the first meeting, in which Denver took advantage of a Pelicans cold spell, this one almost got away, too. New Orleans led 91-84 after a 3-pointer by Darius Miller at 8:16 of the fourth. But the Nuggets mounted a furious run, coming within 93-87 with 2:53 left.

But Davis dunked a lob from Jrue Holiday, then made a layup on the fast break on the next trip, and it was 97-87 with 2:09 left. New Orleans ended the game on a 12-2 run.

“That was a big bucket,” said coach Monty Williams, whose team visits Houston on Saturday night. “We just got stop after stop after that, and we scored on them to close it out.”

With Faried nursing a sprained left ankle, New Orleans outrebounded Denver, one of the NBA’s best teams on the boards, 53-42. Ryan Anderson led the way with 10 to go along with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. The Pelicans also held the Nuggets to 40.2 percent shooting, and the bench outscored Denver’s 36-17.

In the previous meeting, the fateful cold spell occurred in the third quarter. It happened again this time, but the Pelicans had built a sizable lead by then.

New Orleans led 63-47 after a dunk by Holiday three minutes into the quarter. Trailing 66-51, Denver outscored New Orleans 13-4 in the next 3½ minutes to close to 70-64 at 4:06..

But after a timeout, New Orleans had a big answer, going on an 11-0 burst as the Nuggets suddenly went cold. When Evans, not a good outside shooter, sank a 3 at 1:08 of the third, that pushed the margin to 81-64.

The Pelicans held the fort and went into the fourth quarter with an 81-66 advantage.

New Orleans started quickly but couldn’t seem to shake the Nuggets — that is, until the end of the first quarter.

With the score 28-25, Evans drove left for a basket with 39.8 seconds left. Miller then made a four-point play, hitting a 3-pointer on which he was fouled with 3.5 seconds left, and the quarter ended with the Pelicans leading 34-25.

Denver coach Brian Shaw said his team had to expend a lot of energy getting back in the game, starting with that first-quarter deficit.

“That really set us back,” he said. “We played catchup from that point on and could never get back.”

The momentum carried into the second quarter, with big help from newcomer Alexis Ajinca. With New Orleans making shots and the big man anchoring the lane defensively, Denver went the first seven minutes of the quarter hardly attempting anything in the low post.

With Denver missing outside shots, New Orleans went on a 12-4 sprint that pushed the margin to 46-30 at 5:19. The lead reached 18 at 51-33 before the Pelicans went into halftime with a 58-45 cushion.