By: Nathaniel Lastrapes
The start of the 2015-16 regular season has not been ideal for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have lost their first three games. However, hope is on the horizon as the team is set for a winnable game against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers struggles have been plenty over the course of the first three regular season games. Kobe Bryant just cannot seem to buy a bucket and has been extremely frustrated with his performance so far.
The lone bright spot early in the season has been Julius Randle, who impressed in his matchup against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night. Randle played well on both ends of the floor, scoring 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, significantly impacting the game and even keeping the Lakers within striking distance for most of the game.
The Lakers will face the Nuggets on Tuesday night at Staples Center before going on a five-game road trip. A win would be critical for the confidence of this young squad as they are set to leave town for their first road trip of the season.
The Denver Nuggets have a relatively thin frontcourt, featuring Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, and J.J. Hickson off the pine. Faried established a reputation for himself as a hustle player and outstanding rebounder a few years ago under George Karl. Faried does not have a versatile offensive repertoire, but his energy around the rim can have an impact on the game. Faried is an excellent offensive rebounder, so the Lakers frontcourt needs to pay close attention to him and keep him off of the glass.
Gallinari has been the centerpiece for the Nuggets since being exchanged for Carmelo Anthony in a trade with the New York Knicks. Gallinari is an offensive weapon that can have a big night out of nowhere, and the Lakers are known to allow players to have big nights. Gallinari stands at 6’10, but has a great outside jumper. The Lakers wings cannot lose track of him on the defensive end and must close out hard when he does catch the ball.
A solid player off the bench is former Cleveland Cavaliers first round pick, J.J. Hickson. Hickson has been a journeyman since his departure from Cleveland via trade, but he seems to have found a home in Denver. Hickson possesses a nice midrange jumper, but also crashes the offensive glass with similar ferocity to Faried.
The Nuggets have a dynamic backcourt that features Randy Foye and this year’s No. 7 overall pick, Emmanuel Mudiay. Foye has established a name for himself as a scorer, but he doesn’t do much besides scoring. Foye has been a journeyman himself, playing for five different teams over the span of his ten year career. Foye has the ability to knock down open threes, so the Lakers must not lose track of him while rotating on defense.
Mudiay is an interesting prospect and he was looked at very closely by the Lakers front office this summer. The Lakers chose D’Angelo Russell in favor of Mudiay with the No. 2 overall pick this year, so the two young point guards will be inevitably compared throughout their NBA careers. Mudiay is a dynamic scoring point guard who does not make great decisions with the ball. If the Lakers can fluster the young point guard, he will be a non-factor in the contest.
The young point guard does have some guidance from veteran point guard, Jameer Nelson. Nelson is a seasoned point guard whose best days are behind him. The last true success that Nelson has had in his career was with the Orlando Magic, when they lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 2009. Nelson still has the ability to carve through the young Lakers backcourt, so the Lakers need to stay alert when he has the basketball.
Keys to Victory:
Defensive Rebounding: With the Nuggets active frontcourt, Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert must be diligent in boxing out and limiting offensive rebounds. Faried and Hickson will crash the glass ferociously and the only way to prevent offensive boards is sticking with the fundamentals and boxing out. If the Lakers rebound well defensively, they will limit second chance opportunities and increase their chances of winning.
Better Shot Selection: The Lakers have been shooting an abysmal 40 percent from the field and an even worse 29 percent from beyond the arc in their first three games of the season. The Lakers have averaged 34 three-point attempts per game. The Golden State Warriors, by comparison, who feature the best shooting backcourt in the NBA, only take 29 three-point attempts per game. If the Lakers want to improve their chances of winning, they will need to drive the ball and get better shot attempts instead of settling for threes.
Defense, Defense, Defense: The Lakers have struggled from the field, but they have managed to average 106 points per game. This would not be a problem if they were not allowing 116 points per game to the opposition. A general rule of thumb is to limit the opposition to under 100 points, and the Lakers have failed to do this as of yet. If the Lakers tighten up their defensive schemes, they will have a great chance of winning tonight against the Nuggets.
Denver Nuggets (1-2) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-3)
7:30 PM PST, November 2, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Nuggets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Emmanuel Mudiay
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Joffrey Lauvergne
Key Reserves: SG: Randy Foye, PF: J.J. Hickson, PG: Jameer Nelson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Kobe Bryant
PF: Julius Randle
C: Roy Hibbert