Records: Lakers 40-12, Nuggets 38-16
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.4 (2nd-Tied), Nuggets 112.0 (7th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (5th), Nuggets 108.0 (9th-Tied)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torey Craig, Jerami Grant, Nikola Jokic
Injuries: Lakers: none; Nuggets: Will Barton, Mason Plumlee, and Michael Porter Jr. are all out
Their may not be a worse game on the docket than the final contest before a team disbands for the All-Star break. Whether you’re going to the host city to play in the game (or participate in one of the events other festivities) or simply going on a much needed vacation, the players can be…let’s just call it distracted. Flights are booked, plans are made. Oh, and there’s still a regular season basketball game to be played? Who schedules these things?
The Lakers, playing on the road in Denver, could easily fall victim to their wandering eye, then. While their last game over the Suns was a convincing victory that offered some rest for the stars as the clock wound down, this team has not necessarily been at their best of late — even if they have won 4 of their last 5. So, while I hope for a strong effort vs. a really good Nuggets team, I’m not exactly optimistic it will happen.
If there’s a reason to hope for it, though, it’s that the last time these teams played the Nuggets handed the Lakers their hats on a Sunday night game at Staples in December. Denver thrashed the Lakers by 24 points that night, a game that was LA’s 3rd loss in a 4 game losing streak. LeBron didn’t play and while Anthony Davis was great, the rest of the team was not. So, revenge could be a strong motivator tonight.
What could also be a strong motivator is that the Nuggets are currently the 2nd seed in the west. They’re 3 games back of the Lakers overall, but are 4 back in the loss column. A Lakers win tonight would put the Nuggets 5 back in the loss column with only 29 games left on the Lakers schedule. That’s A LOT of games to make up over that few games. Further, a win tonight puts the Lakers up on the season series 2-1 and in the drivers seat to win the series 3-1 in the final matchup between these two teams this year. Should it come to that, the tie-breaker is also in hand.
So, this game matters a little bit. It’s not the end-all, be-all. But it does have some value. Will it have enough value for the Lakers to look past their upcoming vacation? I’m not sure, but I hope it does.
As for how the Lakers win this game, the answer is what it normally is: LeBron and AD play well, the shooters hit shots, and the defense is attentive and willing to do the dirty work of defending a top offense. That means getting over the top of screens vs. Murray, playing aggressively vs. Jokic, closing out to the three point line well, and limiting dribble penetration. The Lakers also need to control the backboards (or at least play it even) and limit the turnovers.
The Nuggets are somewhat shorthanded due to injury and traded away a little bit of depth at the trade deadline. The Lakers cannot mistake that for weakness. Again, this team has won 4 straight games and Jokic has recaptured last season’s form as one of the league’s top players. If the Lakers don’t play up to the level they’re capable, they’ll head into the break with a loss.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.