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Pelicans, Nuggets meet in early-season anticipated game

The Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans looked like they were headed for a showdown of unbeatens, but things didn't work out for either of them.

But the Pelicans' situation might be a little more dire than Denver's. New Orleans dropped its first game of the season Saturday night against Utah, in large part because Anthony Davis sat out with a sprained elbow. The big man and former first overall pick is averaging 27.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks a game this season, which is a lot to make up for against the Jazz.

New Orleans (4-1) hasn't announced his availability for Monday's game in Denver, but the chances of beating the 4-1 Nuggets becomes harder without him.

"There's not any long-term concern," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Saturday night. "He came in today and tried to shoot at shootaround, and there was a still a little bit of pain. ... I'm not going to risk anything over one game."

With him, the Pelicans are formidable, and the same can be said for Denver and center Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets have plenty of talent surrounding their big man, but Jokic makes the offense click like no one else. He was named the Western Conference player of the week for the first week of the season and has already heard MVP! chants from Denver fans.

He shrugs off that chatter.

"I'm just playing my game, so if that's going to make me MVP one day this year, next year, in next whatever years, yes, but I think it's still silly," Jokic told The Denver Post. "I love it because it just makes me laugh."

Opponents haven't been laughing trying to stop Jokic. The Serbian has four double-doubles in five games - matching Davis, fittingly - and he already has a triple-double. His play, along with steady performances from guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, helped Denver get off to its best start in nine years before losing at the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

The Nuggets have had three days off to think about that loss, which was their worst defensive performance of the young season. It will be a lot easier to defend New Orleans if Davis can't play.

If Davis is out Julius Randle will likely start in his place, as he did Saturday night. Randle had 12 points and three rebounds in his first start for the Pelicans.

New Orleans might also be without point guard Elfrid Payton, who left Saturday's game with a sprained right ankle.

Denver has overcome the loss of Will Barton, who had surgery to repair a core muscle injury last week and will be out until at least December. Torrey Craig has started the three games in his place and has been solid.

The key for the Nuggets, however, is Jokic. He appreciates the love and is embracing it, but he's not letting it go to his head.

"Nuggets fans are kind of polite," he told The Denver Post. "They are not rude, they'll start cheering for you. ... That's really cool."

Updated October 29, 2018

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