The Los Angeles Lakers put forth one of their best efforts of the season on Wednesday night in a losing effort against the Golden State Warriors. Now they will look to build on that performance and snap a three-game losing streak as they face the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.
The two sides have already met once this season, with the Lakers surprisingly dominating the Nuggets. Nonetheless, there will be some personnel differences for both sides in this second matchup.
The Lakers have welcomed back Larry Nance Jr., who does all of the little things for the team, and that hasn’t changed in his return. Meanwhile, Western Conference Rookie of the Month Kyle Kuzma missed the team’s last game due to back spasms but is suiingt up against the Nuggets.
Speaking of back problems, Denver small forward Wilson Chandler has missed the last two games with back soreness and is questionable. If Wilson were to miss a third straight game, the Nuggets would be without their entire starting frontcourt as Nikola Jokic (sprained ankle) and Paul Millsap (wrist surgery) are both out, which will put a lot of pressure on their guards.
They might be thin up front, but the Nuggets backcourt is as dangerous as they come and the Lakers guards will need to be locked in defensively.
Both Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are capable of getting hot from deep and shooting the lights out. As is reserve Will Barton, whom the Lakers should be well-acquainted with by now after his scoring exploits in previous seasons.
Murray has struggled shooting the ball this season, but Harris and Barton are each above 43 percent from deep so far. The Lakers must keep an eye on them and not get lost on the perimeter.
That onus starts with Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It has been Caldwell-Pope who has set the tone defensively on the perimeter as he is relentless and fights through screens beautifully.
Ball doesn’t quite get the credit defensively he deserves, but constantly makes plays with his size and IQ.
Offensively, Caldwell-Pope has been on fire recently. He has scored at least 20 points in four straight contests while shooting 46.9 percent from 3-point range. Ball also may be turning a corner as he is shooting 33.3 percent from deep over the last five games, which still isn’t great, but is an improvement.
Both Jordan Clarkson and Emmanuel Mudiay provide energy, scoring and playmaking off the bench for their respective teams. Additionally, the Lakers have received great effort on both ends from rookie Josh Hart, who has solidified a rotation spot.
The Lakers could be facing an entirely different starting frontcourt should Chandler not suit up. Juancho Hernangomez has been starting in his place next to Kenneth Faried, another familiar face for Lakers fans as he always brings a relentless motor and crashes the boards.
The tougher question for the Nuggets is how they will replace Jokic, who leads them in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Their offense is based around his playmaking ability so making up for that will be more difficult than anything.
Mason Plumlee will be the most likely candidate to replace him, though he is a completely different player as more of a rim-running athletic center. Trey Lyles will also get some minutes as more of an offensive weapon, while veteran Richard Jefferson could see some time as well.
All eyes will be on Brandon Ingram on this night. After his 32-point performance against the Warriors, fans and coaches will be looking for him to have that level of mindset and focus every night.
Nance continues to make an impact whenever he is out on the floor. He’s had four steals in each of his two games back, and makes his presence felt without needing to score. The same can’t be said for Brook Lopez who is in the midst of a terrible slump.
He’s scored in single-digits four straight games and even though head coach Luke Walton isn’t worried, the Lakers badly need his offense.
Julius Randle continues to thrive since embracing his bench role, providing a physical presence, paint scoring, and much improved defense. Corey Brewer’s energy has been infectious to the rest of the team, and Andrew Bogut has provided some productive minutes recently when called upon.
Kuzma remains the team’s leading scorer and one of the only true shooters on the roster.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Don’t Relax: Coming off an inspiring performance against the Warriors, and seeing a wounded Nuggets team could be cause for the Lakers to breathe a sigh of relief. They have fallen victim to that before and doing so again will result in the same result as previous games against the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings.
Guard the 3-Point Line: The easiest way to get ran off the floor is to let a team get hot from deep and the Nuggets have the firepower to make that happen. Barton, Harris, Murray, Hernangomez, and even Mudiay have proven themselves capable of catching fire and the Lakers must be locked in defensively.
Attack the Paint: Denver isn’t great at guarding the paint, and that certainly doesn’t get better with some of their injuries. It’s also likely that they go small for large chunks of the game. This is a prime game for Lopez and Randle to dominate on the block and the guards to penetrate at will with little rim protection to deter them.
Los Angeles Lakers (6-10) Vs. Denver Nuggets (9-6)
6:30 P.M. PST, November 18, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer, Josh Hart, Andrew Bogut
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Juancho Hernangomez
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Mason Plumlee
Key Reserves: Will Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Lyles, Richard Jefferson
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