Instead, the Nuggets stuck to their usual defensive principles against the Pelicans, and it paid off -- barely.
"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 became the first player to post at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five steals in a game since steals were recorded in 1973-74.
He didn't get much help offensively. Davis shot 17-of-34; the rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21-of-58.
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 the Nuggets end 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.
Denver still led by 10, at 87-77, when Faried's 5-foot hook shot opened the 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 the NBA 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 shots of 24 from deep. The Pelicans made only 3-of-19.
Nuggets: Between Gallinari, Nikola Jokic and the 7-foot Nurkic, Denver opened the game with three players 6-foot-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 to honor former teammate Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was fatally shot in 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.
Nuggets: Host Portland on Saturday night.
Pelicans: Host Golden State on Friday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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