The Los Angeles Lakers (8-14) failed to seize a golden opportunity against the short-handed Denver Nuggets (13-9) on Saturday night, falling 115-100 in the first game of a brutal December schedule.
The night began inauspiciously as the starting lineup struggled once again, outscored by their Denver counterparts 42-22. Jamal Murray – who came into the game making just 2 of his previous 22 attempts from 3-point range – quickly found his mojo, hitting his first 3 bombs off of a mix of weak side spot up attempts and elevator screens. Murray scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the opening stanza, as the Lakers tagged hard on roll men while not closing out to shooters with their customary gusto.
Julius Randle entered the game and swung the momentum in the Lakers’ favor for the umpteenth time this season, catalyzing the Lakers with 9 points in his first 6 minutes of action. A pivotal 19-5 run in the 2nd quarter gave the Lakers a 59-55 lead at the half, with a lineup of Lonzo Ball, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance, Jr., & Brook Lopez, doing much of the damage.
Yet the Lakers completely disintegrated down the stretch after trading punches with Denver for most of the 2nd half. The Nuggets closed the game on a staggering 15-0 run, which included the following in the last 3:43 of the game:
-Larry Nance, Jr. at Center instead of Julius Randle
-7 personal fouls, including 2 offensive fouls
-1 technical foul on Lonzo Ball
-The reinsertion of Randle for Nance, after the game started to slip away
A very frustrated Luke Walton said he thought the team was ready to “take the next step,” win in the road until the fourth quarter “meltdown” to end the game. Defense frustrated him the most, he said.
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) December 3, 2017
While the Lakers have competed in nearly every game of the season, tonight once again demonstrated their disturbing inability to execute in close games. Brandon Ingram followed up his career high, 32-point performance against the Golden State Warriors with another solid, 20-point night (fueled by 8-8 shooting from the free throw line), but neither he, Kyle Kuzma (9 of his 13 points in the 4th quarter), nor anyone else could take the offensive reigns in the closing moments, making a close contest look like a blowout in the final tally.
The Nuggets were without their star big men, Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, whom they rely on to facilitate their offense as passers just as much as their individual scoring. Yet it didn’t matter much, as the Lakers’ defense has seen a bit of a regression in the past 8 games. Their Defensive Rating over that stretch is 107.8, which ranks just 20th in the NBA in that timespan. Considering that their Offensive Rating (100.0) has held steady as the third-worst offense in the league, this is a concerning development for a team that faces 3 of the top offenses in the NBA (Golden State, Houston, Cleveland) 5 times in the next 8 games.
Up next: Things don’t get any easier for Luke Walton and company, as they host the Western Conference-leading Houston Rockets tomorrow night at 6:30pm PST on Spectrum SportsNet.