In a game where the final score was closer than the actual game, the Lakers lost to the Nuggets 113-107 to fall to 0-2 on the preseason.
In our game preview, we talked about the Lakers needing to look inward and find ways to improve as both a team and for the individual players to find small ways to make strides forward. Early on, that’s exactly what we saw, too. The team came out with good defensive focus and energy, closing off driving lanes and rotating well when someone did get beat. That led to defensive stops which then allowed the Lakers to get out in the open court for easy baskets.
Before you knew it, the Nuggets were on their heels and the Lakers were flirting with a double digit lead. Towards the end of the 1st quarter, however, things started to break down. And even though the Lakers took a small lead into the second frame, that wasn’t going to last long.
In a quarter that saw the Nuggets outscore the Lakers 35-25, it’s easy to say the 2nd quarter is where the game turned. So, I’ll do just that. The 2nd quarter is where the game turned. Denver found their stride offensively, the Lakers defense stopped being able to rotate effectively, and things just snowballed from there. In the period the Nuggets hit 6-11 from behind the arc, with 5 different players able to can a triple.
From there, the Lakers played catch up the rest of the way but were never able to fully recapture their 1st quarter defense while the Nuggets stayed hot from behind the arc. Yes, they were able to make some runs and give Denver something to think about, but overall the Lakers were just outmatched for most of the final 36 minutes.
The only real scare was when Kyle Kuzma got ridiculously hot down the stretch and turned a blowout into a respectable game. After a 3 pointer and a dunk on back to back possessions by the rookie, the Lakers got it to within 4 points, but pick and pop to get Kuzma a 3 turned into a bad shot when the defender got a piece of the ball on a reach in as Kuzma elevated for his jumper. The shot missed badly, Denver scored on the other end and that was the ball game.
Overall, then, this game had some nice moments and I do think there were some positive strides made. But, Denver is better than the Lakers and that superior quality bore out in the end. Jokic and Millsap are superior to any player the Lakers have and, preseason or not, that mattered in the end (as did Gary Harris being really good). So, the Lakers are now 0-2. Like I said after the last game, there’s lots of work to do still. Lucky for the Lakers, they’ll have a couple of more weeks to get it in before the regular season starts.
And now, some additional notes…
*I mentioned Kyle Kuzma earlier, but I didn’t give you his numbers. For the 2nd straight game he led the team in scoring, pouring in 23 points on 9-17 shooting, including 4-9 from behind the arc. If you missed the game, here is a visual representation of Kuzma during his minutes on the floor:
*Julius Randle continues to get a lot flack for what he’s not (namely the type of shooter Kuzma is), but I thought he played another good game in this one. 12 points (on 5-10 shooting), 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in a little over 18 minutes. He competed defensively, played with good energy, and just played with a good edge to him. Randle will never be the perfect player, but I like what he’s showing overall.
*After a good 1st game that earned him a start, Ivica Zubac could not replicate things tonight. In a little over 17 minutes, he only took one shot (a miss) and grabbed only 4 rebounds. He had issues defending Jokic (join the club, I know), but it was especially difficult for him to close out to the 3 point line to contest shots. That left Jokic too open and the Lakers paid for it.
*Brandon Ingram had another rough shooting night going 3-9. I liked his overall aggressiveness and that he earned a few trips to the FT line and also drew some off-ball fouls. His shots were also good looks and a couple went in and out. But, you know, they don’t give you points for nice looking shots that go in and out. I’d like to see him hit a few more of these, but thought he played a cleaner game than on Saturday.
*I’m not going to go in too hard on him, but Larry Nance has not had a very good first two games. On Saturday he was not good on the glass and was not aggressive enough offensively. This game he was again not aggressive and while he was active, he didn’t make much of an impact. I know Nance is a fan favorite, but with Randle being productive and Kuzma playing as well as he is…you can see where I’m going with this.
*Luol Deng made his preseason debut and scored 9 points on 4-9 shooting. He hit a couple of threes and showed good activity on the glass. I don’t know if he’ll have a role when the season comes, but today’s performance was nice to see.