If you are riding a high after D’Angelo Russell’s scoring outburst sunk the Nets, I can’t blame you. It’s rare a rookie has the type of night Russell had, as evidenced by it being the highest scoring night for a rookie this season and the most points a Lakers’ rookie has scored since Elgin Baylor in 1959. That means no Lakers rookie since the team moved to Los Angeles has ever had the scoring night Russell did last night. Kind of crazy.
Going from that type of game, however, to playing on the road in Denver the following night (tonight) will offer its challenges. The Nuggets aren’t the best team and are dealing with injuries, but teams flying east into Denver after playing the night before typically fare poorly. I do not have a recent stat on this, but several years ago the numbers were something along the lines of the Nuggets being 42-1 over a stretch when facing team under those circumstances.
Fact is, the airport in Denver is not very close to Downtown where the hotels are arena are located and after playing a late west coast game and then flying east where you lose an hour, only to have to play a game at altitude…it’s not a formula for success. This is what the Lakers are up against tonight.
This doesn’t mean they cannot win, but it will be difficult. Things get somewhat harder with Lou Williams not playing — he didn’t even travel with the team — after suffering a strained hamstring versus the Nets. In fact, Williams will be out at least a week and maybe longer. This means more minutes for the young players, but also minutes for Marcelo Huertas as a backup PG to play next to Clarkson and Russell or in other mish-mashed lineups with Anthony Brown, Nick Young, and Kobe.
And while the Nuggets are banged up, they are not without talent. They have some talented big men (Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, Yusuf Nurkic), some exciting and young wings (Will Barton, Gary Harris), rookie PG Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried playing well at PF, and some solid veterans (Jameer Nelson, DJ Augustin). They also have Michael Malone as their head coach, who I really like. This hasn’t been enough to make a lot of headway in the crowded west, but with Wilson Chandler out all year and Danilo Galinari also missing time (he recently tore ligaments in his ankle and will not play tonight), that’s to be expected.
They certainly have enough to give the Lakers issues tonight and, when added to the issues I pointed to at the top of this post, I don’t expect the Lakers to actually win this game. That said, some good performances from Russell, Clarkson, and Randle would not be out of the ordinary. So I’ll be watching just to see if they can keep the good vibes going.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.