The Los Angeles Lakers play the surging Denver Nuggets tonight at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets, winners of three in a row, are coming off a stunning late game victory against the Bulls. For their part, the Lakers lost in overtime to the defending champs Wednesday night.
Taking pride in a moral victory is a lot like warming yourself next to a dumpster fire. Depending on the circumstances it might be nice, but it’s not ideal. That said, there is a lot to love in the loss against the Warriors (check out the data here). Brandon Ingram had a career night. He scored a career high 32 points against what is one of the best defenses in the league when they care and they aren’t hung over.
Real estate prices are skyrocketing on Randle Island as Julius continues playing some of the best basketball on the team. Randle has the ability to defend all five positions. The small ball lineup, with him at center, thrives on his ability to switch onto guards.
Lonzo Ball is averaging a triple double (11/16/11) in one game against the Nuggets. I’m not great at math, but I think that stat is pretty undeniable. Against all odds the Lakers are still 7th in Defensive Efficiency and will face the 8th best offense in the Nuggets tonight. The Lakers are almost full strength tonight as we wait to hear if Kyle Kuzma will return to the lineup after sitting out with back spasms last game. The most surprising part about that injury report is that Kyle Kuzma has bones and muscles just like us mortals.
On the injury front it has been a rough season for the Nuggets as Paul Millsap is out several months after suffering an injury in the last game against the Lakers. Spreadsheet darling Nikola Jokic will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Will Barton will play and is coming off a 37 point performance against the Bulls. Barton and Gary Harris will have a lot of work to do tonight to keep the Nuggets winning spree going. Furiously active and dubiously effective Kenneth Faried will be all over the court tonight as he offensively rebounds some of those open injury minutes.
The key to tonight’s game will, as always, be whether or not the Laker starters are able to transport the basketball through the rim at a rate equal to or greater than the Nuggets. To do it the Lakers will need to start hitting Larry Nance on cuts and lobs. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will also need to continue his stretch of 20 point games and discontinue his shooting of three point shots in transition.
With some luck Lonzo Ball will make the most valuable team assist in helping rediscover Lopez’s offensive game and we will be well on our way to a victory.
Tonight begins a very tough stretch of games to end the year. There are no easy games left on this schedule through the end of December. If the Lakers are going to avoid getting panic-filled hyperbole for Christmas they are going to need to win some of these games against teams not currently expected to actually play for a title.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start on Spectrum Sportsnet.