After a disappointing loss to the Suns on Friday, the Lakers found the right combination of energy, teamwork, and shot making to beat the Nuggets 127-109. Led by Lonzo Ball’s triple-double and Julius Randle’s big scoring night, the Lakers were able to keep the Nuggets at arm’s length and get one of their best wins of the season.
We’ll start with Lonzo because, well, we don’t want to bury the lede. With 11 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists, Lonzo tallied his 2nd trip-dub in 8 days and showed a level of activity that has not always been there the last week. It wasn’t that Lonzo just pushed the pace — which he did expertly — it was how engaged he was while doing so, mixing his patented throw ahead passes with speed dribbles up the court to keep the defense on its heels.
This not only led to a lot of his personal assist numbers, but also some “hockey” assists where he triggered plays which directly led to baskets after the defense made its initial rotation. When Luke talks about Lonzo being aggressive, this is the exact type of game he means. Lonzo still only shot 5-13 and was not an efficient finisher himself, but he put his stamp on this game by establishing the terms of engagement when the ball was in his hands.
As for Randle, we recently spotlighted why we thought his future should be on the Lakers and this game was just further evidence that emboldens that belief. Randle led the Lakers in scoring with 24 points while also grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists all off the bench. Randle was assertive in looking for his own shot, but never to the detriment of the team’s offensive flow as his assist numbers back up.
Further, Randle was just tremendous from an activity standpoint. He was more than solid defensively when operating in switches, he rotated well around the rim to contest shots, and was very good in the screen game when the Lakers did set up in the half court. I also really liked how he moved off the ball this game, not only as a roll man in the P&R, but when making himself available as a pressure release and dump-off option when the defense collapsed on the primary ball handler. Just a really excellent game from Randle and one which showed what his output can be when he’s not only fully engaged, but when the ball flows through and finds him in the right spots.
Of course, while it’s easy to highlight the Lakers strong points, we should also point out that the Nuggets suffered more than their share of bad luck this game. Both head coach Michael Malone and star big man Nikola Jokic were thrown out of this game for arguing a non-call under the hoop when Jokic got pushed in the back on a tip-in attempt by Kyle Kuzma. The ref missed it and Malone was none too pleased, running onto the court during game action to get in the ref’s face. The ref then got technical foul happy, not only tossing Malone (who deserved it), but Jokic too (who probably did not).
The Nuggets then also lost Paul Millsap to a wrist injury. Down their best two players and their head coach and already in a double-digit hole, the Nuggets just didn’t have enough to get any real footing and make a prolonged comeback. They had flashes — including a big scoring 3rd quarter where they hit 8! three’s — but the Lakers found ways to settle back down and get a timely bucket to fall and stop the bleeding. Credit Luke Walton here, too, for taking good timeouts and reminding his team to not let the scoreboard dictate their effort level or their want to execute.
All in all, then, just a good night for the Lakers. They got some help from the Nuggets who played poorly and then compounded that with technicals and injury, but we should also credit the home team in how they came out ready from the outset. They hit shots, defended a really good offense well from the opening tip, and never lost focus for too long a stretch to let Denver back in it.
And now, a few notes…
*This was easily the Lakers best passing game of the season. Beyond the 36 assists on 53 made baskets, the team was just committed to making the extra pass in this game and it showed up both in how well they scored and how hard they made the Nuggets defense work.
*Brandon Ingram only shot 5-13 this game, but he had 6 assists himself and I thought he played a controlled game overall. He didn’t let his shot not falling get him out of his comfort zone where he started to press or force the action. Instead, he let the game come to him and he made the right reads more often than not.
*This is where I’m going to be a little bit hard on Kyle Kuzma. His 7-11 shootingNi line was great. He was assertive, made good pass/shot decisions, and was big in hitting 3 of his 4 shots from distance. That said, I thought his effort defensively and on the backboards was well below his normal standard and that showed up in the boxscore (he only had 3 rebounds and was only a +1 in a game the Lakers led most of the way). This isn’t the norm from Kuzma, but I thought he only played okay despite a really efficient night as a scorer.
*Nice to see Josh Hart back tonight. He didn’t do much statistically in his 12 minutes of action, but I just liked seeing him back on the floor after he’d shot his way out of the rotation for a few games.
*Very good night from Brook Lopez. 21 points on 9-14 shooting, including 3-5 from deep. His shooting really does open up the team’s offense.