Coming into Tuesday’s Lakers game vs. the Nuggets, I wrote “My bigger thing is the process they show rather than the results of this game. If the Lakers play hard, play focused, and show a high commitment defensively, I’ll be happy win or lose. I’ll be happier if they win, though.” Well, after a 105-96 win in Denver, I’m as happy as can be.
In a game where “half” the Lakers were showing signs of being ill (Anthony Davis reportedly has the flu) and playing at altitude, it probably would have been easier for the Lakers to come out fatigued and lacking that extra pep needed to win on the road vs. a good team. And, honestly, if that had happened, as frustrating as it would have been to watch, it would have been understandable. And while the Lakers did have stretches where they were visibly tired and making the types of mistakes that come with being worn down, they showed a resolve and commitment to playing hard and smart on both sides of the ball in order to win the game.
And, really, that’s the story here. I could go on and on about the brilliance of Davis and LeBron James, here (and I will, soon enough), but this was a total team effort where every player who saw even a minute of action showed a willingness to do the little things and contribute to the win. Be it KCP making the extra pass or Rondo showing more activity defensively or Dwight working to get position on the offensive backboards or Alex Caruso getting his nose dirty on the defensive glass or Kuz making some really good back line rotations to contest shots at the rim with verticality…there were so many plays that seem small in the moment, but add up in the aggregate.
Even with those types of efforts from the role players, though, the Lakers simply do not win without the massive contributions of AD and Bron.
Let’s start with the flu-ridden Davis. AD was not his best physically for portions of this game. He got caught out of position on rotations, got beat off the dribble, had a couple of missed dunks, missed a layup late, and left several jumpers short. Looking at his body language, you could just tell he was not fully there, slouched shoulders and hands on his knees combined with a lack of his normal…burst all over the floor as the real indicators of what shape he was in.
That said, Davis was an absolute monster late defensively, putting the clamps on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on what seemed like every other possession for the final 3 minutes of the game to keep the Lakers ahead in the contest’s most critical moments. I mean, look at this work:
This cannot be stressed enough: the players AD is defending in that clip are the Nuggets’ All-NBA center and score-first point guard who double as that team’s best players. And Davis absolutely smothers them. He’s a beast. What also cannot be stressed enough is that even on a day where AD was not his best physically, he hit half his 18 shots, scored 25 points, and grabbed 10 rebounds (3 offensive). What a player.
LeBron, too, was just fantastic. 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and some good defensive moments of his own too. He controlled the tempo of the game, started the contest with really strong intent to set the tone for the team, and followed that aforementioned AD missed layup with 1:15 left in the game to put the team up 6 and really seal the win. I know his stats are not as good as Giannis’, Luka’s, or maybe even Harden’s. But, considering his night to night contributions to the team with the best record in the league, I cannot think of a player more valuable than him to their respective team. Equally valuable? Sure. But not more.
Bringing this back to the beginning, though, the Lakers showed me something this game. They played a tough opponent, on the road, and got a win with effort, execution, and guile. Everyone who played contributed and all those contributions were needed to get the win. This game made me proud as a fan. It truly was fantastic to see. And now, for some notes…
- I’m sure praising Alex Caruso in this space is getting old to some readers. Guess what? Sorry, here comes more. Caruso tied AD as a team best +11 in the boxscore, hit 2 of his 3 shots from the field and sunk a couple of important FT’s late for his 6 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and played his normal top-shelf defense. Also, he had another dunk. This dude is just flat out fun.
- That clip of Caruso yamming home a follow dunk gives me a chance to talk about Dwight Howard a bit more. On that play where Caruso dunked, what’s going to be mostly unsaid is how Caruso’s runway to get to the glass was cleared by Dwight who was occupying two Nuggets while battling for rebounding position. Dwight’s work on the backboards was very good all night, but especially so on the offensive side where he grabbed two and drew fouls at least two other times establishing position. Dwight also served as a good lob finisher on passes from LeBron while playing some high level defense.
- Really tough night for Danny Green offensively in this one. DG only scored 5 points on 2-12 shooting, including 1-7 from behind the arc. Green was solid on defense, but the difference in life in his legs vs. what Caruso brought was noticeable.
- Kyle Kuzma didn’t shoot the ball well, but I liked this game from him much better than some of his previous ones. As a scorer he was much more aggressive in looking to drive the ball and get actions going towards the paint when coming off screens. And defensively, he was attentive on his back line rotations, forcing a couple misses at the rim when challenging shots without fouling. Those defensive plays matter and will give him an avenue to be able to contribute even when he’s not scoring as much as he can.
- In my game preview I mentioned that Jokic has not looked as good this year and that trend continued vs. the Lakers. Some of that was surely AD’s defense, but some of it was also just him looking a step slow, somewhat disinterested, and just…off. He had a couple of really bad passes and his reticence to shoot on a few possessions really stood out.
- The Lakers only hit 7 of their 24 shots from behind the arc, but the Nuggets outdid them by only hitting 6 of 29. Matt Moore of The Action Network said this on twitter, but if you’re going to get outscored by the Lakers from beyond the arc, your chances of winning the game drop significantly.
- Nice game from Rondo in this one. 11 points on 4-6 shooting with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He hit two threes (one from a few feet behind the line) and did a good job of organizing the team’s offense and made a few really excellent passes. There will always be a few plays from him that can be held against him, but that’s the truth with every player and I’m going to try not to just rag on him for what I don’t like instead of crediting him for the good things he does contribute.
That’s it for this one, folks. We’ll have a game preview up later today.