After a couple of games back at home, the Los Angeles Lakers are right back on the road and have a tough path ahead of them as they take on the extremely dangerous Denver Nuggets.
The Lakers have won six of seven games since the All-Star break, but have struggled in their last two contests, blowing a late lead to Portland and nearly doing the same against Orlando. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have lost two straight and now find themselves a game out of the playoffs in the ridiculously tough Western Conference.
The Nuggets are an extremely dangerous offensive team that ranks in the top-10 in points, field goal percentage, and 3-pointers made. The head of the snake is their outstanding all-around center Nikola Jokic.
Not only is Jokic a great scorer from all over the court, he is one of the best passers in the NBA, regardless of position, and leads the Nuggets in assists at six per game. He is, however, a poor defender and that is where the Lakers could take advantage.
Brook Lopez dominated the Magic in the paint on Wednesday and he has the ability to do the same against Jokic, even potentially putting him in foul trouble which would be a huge blow to Denver.
The Nuggets boast an extremely explosive backcourt in Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. Both are capable of getting hot in an instant, as is super-sixth man Will Barton, who has made a habit of giving the Lakers fits over the last few seasons.
It has been an adjustment for the Lakers playing without leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who also doubles as one of their best shot creators for others. In his absence, Kyle Kuzma was huge on Wednesday with a double-double and that will need to continue as he is the Laker most capable of getting hot offensively.
The backcourt trio of Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Isaiah Thomas will once again be relied upon, especially with the lack of depth on the wing thanks to the injuries to Ingram and Josh Hart. Though, depth could be bolstered by the signing of Derrick Williams.
Thomas’ shot has been up and down so far in his Lakers tenure, but he has done a good job of setting up his teammates, in particular Ivica Zubac and Julius Randle have each been beneficiaries of Thomas’ vision.
Speaking of Randle, he will have a very interesting matchup with the Paul Millsap, who recently returned. It was a game against the Lakers back in November in which Millsap injured his wrist and has only been back for five games.
Randle had a tough game against the Magic, struggling with Aaron Gordon along with being under the weather. Millsap is just getting back into things, but he is an outstanding defender so Randle will have to be locked in or risk another rough outing.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Crash the Glass: The Nuggets are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, especially on the offensive glass. L.A. has struggled at times to keep teams off the boards and have lost games because of their inability to end defensive possessions. Allowing a dangerous shooting team like Denver multiple offensive possessions is a recipe for failure.
Win the Turnover Battle: Denver has some of the same turnover problems that the Lakers have, and had 21 in their last loss to Cleveland. If the Lakers can hold on to the ball while forcing Denver into their own, it could be key to getting some easy points and getting a lead.
Bench Help: With their injuries, the Lakers have an extremely thin bench. Isaiah Thomas has been solid and Ivica Zubac has looked better, but someone else will have to step up and steal some minutes. Whether it is Travis Wear, Thomas Bryant, or Tyler Ennis, the Lakers need someone on their bench to give them productive minutes.
Los Angeles Lakers (29-35) Vs. Denver Nuggets (35-30)
6:00 P.M. PST, March 9, 2018
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Ivica Zubac, Travis Wear, Tyler Ennis
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Wilson Chandler
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Will Barton, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee, Devin Harris
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