Davis, Pelicans look to stop red-hot Nuggets

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets gained confidence by going 5-1 on their recent homestand. Their positive mood was dealt a blow with a humbling loss at Portland on Monday night.

Three days off and a possible return of guard Gary Harris might help the Nuggets heading into Friday's home game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Harris, who missed two games with right shoulder soreness, is expected back in the starting lineup. His return allows guard Will Barton to return to the bench and give that unit some needed scoring punch.

Harris said he hurt his shoulder during Denver's win over Oklahoma City on Nov. 9. Tests were negative and rest was prescribed. He returned to practice Wednesday and participated in contact drills.

"It's just getting back playing with contact and getting comfortable with everything," Harris told The Denver Post.

Harris is averaging 12.4 points a game but has been deadly from long range. He is hitting a career-best 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers, which helps open up the floor for big men like Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic.

He is also one of Denver's best perimeter defenders, something missed against Portland guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combined for 32 points on 11-of-25 shooting in Monday's 99-82 loss.

Barton going back to his sub role will add punch to the bench, which was outscored 42-14 by the Trail Blazers' reserves in the 99-82 loss. He is averaging 14.9 points a game.

The Nuggets (8-6) hope to have the same success against Pelicans that the Toronto Raptors did on Wednesday night. Toronto shot 59 percent from the field and hit 16 3-pointers to hand the Pelicans a 125-116 loss.

The Pelicans' 3-point defense has struggled recently. Opponents are shooting 42 percent from long range over the last five games and New Orleans has allowed 16 3-pointers in three of the past four games. That was the case against Toronto.

"We let guys that are known shooters get wide open shots," New Orleans center DeMarcus Cousins told Nola.com. "That's on us. We were a bit limited tonight."

Friday's game features the return of guard Jameer Nelson, who was waived by Denver in the preseason. Nelson was a mentor to Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay, but the Nuggets decided to give the offense to the young point guards and let Nelson go.

Nelson started most of last season for Denver but is coming off the bench. He's now playing behind Rajon Rondo, who played his second game of the season Wednesday after returning from core muscle surgery.

Rondo, who signed with the Pelicans as a free agent, had four points in 14 minutes Wednesday. He played five minutes in his first game Monday against the Atlanta Hawks.

"It's a great feeling to be back out there and playing basketball again," Rondo told Nola.com. "It's what I love to do, especially with these group of guys. They're very unselfish."

New Orleans' big-man tandem of Cousins and Anthony Davis should be a challenge for Jokic and Millsap. Denver will rely on reserve big men Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried. Faried has gone from starter for years to sporadic playing time, but when he's been on the court he has provided energy.

The glut of big men has made finding minutes tough for Faried, and at times Plumlee.

"It's not easy for those guys," Nuggets coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post. "I'm trying to see what the best thing is for us. We're playing well right now, and I'm going to stay with it. There's a point in time, maybe, I think another way you can clean it up is say, 'Listen, instead of playing four bigs, I'm going to play three bigs.' But I'm not ready to make that decision just yet."