The Los Angeles Lakers were beaten badly by the Denver Nuggets Monday night by a final score of 129-101. It was yet another game that was over in the first quarter, and by halftime the purple and gold were down by 24 points. As they have done so often this season, the Lakers failed to resemble an NBA team and embarrassed themselves on national television by failing to show up and compete.
Denver has really emerged as a very good team the second half of the season. They have young talent at every position, an ample supply of shooters, and they play with passion and energy. Should they secure a playoff spot they’ll put up a good fight in the first round against whomever they play. Still, this doesn’t explain the Lakers unprofessional performance, and it is no excuse that they played the night before and had to travel to Denver.
Despite the disappointing effort, there were a few positives for the Lakers. Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Ivica Zubac Had A Break-Out Performance
A few years from now, Lakers fans may remember this game as the moment Zubac established himself as a future NBA star. A night after he registered four blocks in the first quarter alone, he finished with a career high 25 points on 12-15 shooting from the field. He showed his versatility by scoring in a variety of ways, with both hands, and from inside and outside the paint.
There were several other facets of Zubac’ performance that were impressive. For one, he was strong on the boards, finishing with 11 rebounds. There have been questions about his stamina, but against the Nuggets, he was aggressive in the second half and was on the court a total of 30 minutes for the game, far more than he has been playing previously.
Perhaps most impressive, he held his own against the NBA’s newest star Nikola Jokic and the tough Mason Plumlee. Zubac was not even expected to play much this season, but once he was given a chance he quickly established himself as pivotal part of the team’s future. Even at age 19, anyone can see that he has serious skills and is only going to get better and better. The unexpected emergence of Zubac is likely to be the story of the year for the Lakers.
2. Jordan Clarkson Starting Over D’Angelo Russell Made No Difference
Just before the game started, coach Luke Walton made the shocking announcement that Jordan Clarkson was going to replace D’Angelo Russell in the starting line-up. Russell had started every game he has played this season and he had been playing well since the All-Star break, although he had a poor game the night before against the 76ers while Clarkson had perhaps the best game of his career.
Clarkson finished with 19 points but shot only 7-18 from the floor. He had been in a slump from behind the arc but connected on three, three-point shots which was good to see. He also had three assists and two rebounds. Russell had the identical three assists and two rebounds, and he finished with 10 points on 4-14 shooting from the floor.
Walton stated that he made the switch just to try out some different lineups and praised Russell’s play so it is unclear whether this change will remain moving forward. On this night it meant nothing since the entire Lakers team came out flat and neither Clarkson or Russell did anything great.
3. Brandon Ingram Continues to Improve His Offense
In the previous game against the 76ers, Brandon Ingram played a strong first half but disappeared as the contest went on. The reverse occurred against the Nuggets, as Ingram started slowly thanks to three early fouls, but had a strong second half.
For the game, he finished with 14 points on an efficient 7-12 from the field. He only had two assists and one rebound, however, which is an indicator that, like his teammates, he played with little energy.
It is a welcome sign that Ingram’s offense continues to improve. For the season, he is still only shooting 38% from the field and a woeful 29% from three point range. Since the All-Star break, however, he is doing much better, shooting a respectable 49.5 percent while taking nearly three more shots per game.
The Lakers hope that based on his recent performances, Ingram may be over the prolonged shooting slump which has put a cloud over his rookie season. One of the most important statistics to follow in the remaining 15 games this season will be Ingram’s scoring efficiency. Hopefully he will continue his recent string of strong shooting performances.