In the hours leading up to the Nuggets' game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, Denver coach Brian Shaw issued challenges to some of his team's most important players.

Ty Lawson. Kenneth Faried. J.J. Hickson. And others.

"I put everybody on alert," Shaw said. "I challenged Ty as a leader, whether he wants to accept that responsibility or not. I challenge Kenneth and J.J. and just the starters in general that they have to start games (well)."

Challenge accepted.

The Nuggets' 102-93 win over New Orleans at the Pepsi Center wasn't the completely polished product Shaw was looking for, but his players at least looked to take more ownership in the effort and focus they put on the court. And that was a start.

"I thought the starters gave a better effort tonight," Shaw said. "They're pros, and they have pride. Ty and Randy (Foye), I felt that (going scoreless last game) was an aberration more than anything else. And they still can do better."

The Nuggets steadily ground the New Orleans offense to a halt, forcing a reduction in the Pelicans' field-goal percentage in each quarter as the game went on. And that has been a fairly consistent part of the Nuggets' personality this season as well — getting stronger as games wear on.

After Denver allowed 27 points in the first quarter, New Orleans managed 25 in the second and just 16 in the third. That defensive performance allowed the Nuggets to jump-start their offense, which did get off to another sluggish start. The Nuggets were down 8-0 early before things began to improve. A 22-8 run got them back into the game, and the two teams jousted from then.

"Third quarter, I think we showed we can play great defense," Hickson said. "We contested most of their shots."

Shooting was an issue, the Nuggets hitting just 43.5 percent from the field, so the defensive effort was doubly important in getting the victory.