New Orleans Pelicans forwards Ryan Anderson, front, and Al-Farouq Aminu heads off the court after the Denver Nuggets' 102-93 victory over the Pelicans in an NBA basketball game in Denver on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013.
Nate Robinson serenaded his teammate with a song in the locker room, rapping and rhyming about J.J. Hickson’s big game.
Only fitting, since the Denver Nuggets were marching to Hickson’s beat all night.
Hickson had 19 points and 11 rebounds and the Nuggets overcame a slow start to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 102-93 Sunday night.
Last season, Hickson was a double-double machine for Portland, ranking among the league leaders with 40. This was only his sixth of the season for Denver.
"We’ve been teasing J.J. a lot: `Where are all those double-doubles from last year? Because we need them this year,’" Robinson said. "I know they’re going to come.
"Once we get it rolling, it’s going to be dangerous; it’s going to be scary for teams to play us."
Especially if they can jump out to faster starts. Once again, the Nuggets took a while to get going on offense and had to play catch-up. But they did and were able to pull away late.
No big deal, since it’s more about how a team finishes than starts, right?
"It’s how you start," Ty Lawson said, grinning. "We get in such a hole in the first quarter and it’s hard to come back and have energy in the fourth."
Wilson Chandler added 19 to help the Nuggets bounce back from a rare home loss on Friday. They’re 7-3 at Pepsi Center this season after going a franchise-best 38-3 in 2012-13.
Ryan Anderson scored 26 and Austin Rivers chipped in a season-high 17 for the Pelicans, who began a five-game road swing. They were without guard Tyreke Evans, who was sitting out due to a sprained left ankle.
"We just didn’t have the same juice tonight that we’ve had in a lot of games," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "Guys missed shots. We had a lot of open looks, but we just didn’t make good shots."
This game was tight most of the way, with neither team able to pull away. The Nuggets went on an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter to gain a little separation, leading 71-62 after a pair of free throws by Lawson. The Pelicans could never slice into the deficit.
Jordan Hamilton put an exclamation on the win with dunks on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets once again received solid production from their bench players, with Robinson leading the way by scoring 14. The reserves are averaging 45.3 points, third best in the NBA.
"Our job is to make it hard for them (starters) in practice, to give them the best look that any other starting five in the league is going to give them," Robinson explained. "We take pride in that."
As has become the recent trend, Denver trailed after the first quarter, trailing 27-24. This was the eighth straight game in which Denver has fallen behind after the opening 12 minutes.
Fed up with his team’s slow starts, coach Brian Shaw has done some investigating to fix it. He and his staff examined what the players were eating in pregame meals, whether they were getting proper rest leading up to tip off and even changed their stretching routine.
The first-year head coach even put his players on notice that he was thinking about switching up the starting lineup. But he stayed with his familiar starting crew against the Pelicans.
Still, it was another frosty start as Denver fell behind 8-0 before the players had time to work up a sweat.
"The first bucket and then four, six, eight (points), you start to think about it," Lawson said. "It’s like, `Oh, we’re starting off slow again.’ We try to put it out of our heads."
The Nuggets had a spirited practice on Saturday, with Shaw’s guards hardly missing a shot, he reported. That was quite a contrast to a 103-93 loss to Utah on Friday, when Randy Foye and Lawson went a combined 0 for 9 from the field.
Shaw even challenged the speedy Lawson to step up, saying: "As the point guard of this team and a guy on the cusp of becoming an All-Star level player, you can’t allow what happened to our team happen to our team."
Lawson received the message, dishing out eight assists and scoring 12 points.
"The challenge he gave us was crazy," Lawson said. "Got to respond to that. We all took it to heart. We had to get better and we did."
NOTES: The Pelicans had just six fast-break points. They came in averaging 17.4, which was second in the league. … The Nuggets outrebounded the Pelicans 51-32.