The Los Angeles Lakers head to Denver to take on the Nuggets in the second night of a back-to-back. The Lakers came up short against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night but will try to right that wrong against the Nuggets.
Head coach Luke Walton surprised everyone with another tweak to his starting lineup, this time replacing D’Angelo Russell at point guard with Jordan Clarkson. David Nwaba, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Ivica Zubac rounded out the starting five.
The Lakers came out aggressively, with Clarkson attack out of the pick and roll and doing a solid job setting up cutting teammates. One such play saw him find Nwaba at the rim, but Mason Plumlee came from out of nowhere to block the shot for Denver. Danilo Gallinari knocked in a three and a pair of free throws, and Nikola Jokic also got off to a hot start.
Los Angeles kept things close thanks to a three from Randle, which he is starting to take (and more importantly, make) with regularity. Out of a timeout, Zubac and Clarkson ran the pick and roll to perfection, which resulted in an easy two in the paint for Zubac. Still, the Lakers defensive struggles were evident when they allowed Plumlee to cover nearly the full length of the floor uncontested.
Denver looked committed to running on their weary foes but a three-pointer and-one from Clarkson allowed Los Angeles to be down just one halfway through the first.
Opponents heading to Denver tend to do so on the second night of a back-to-back, and that’s something the high-altitude Nuggets squad takes advantage of. D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. checked in for Los Angeles as Zubac and Nwaba headed to the bench. Denver continued to run through Jokic, who has been an incredible find for their franchise.
Russell and Clarkson essentially took turns running the offense, but Russell looked particularly aggressive, perhaps too much so, and his demotion to the bench is likely the culprit. Corey Brewer managed to botch a two-on-none fast break by throwing a behind-the-back pass straight out of bounds, which is sure to appear on this week’s “Shaqtin A Fool”.
The Lakers came out of a timeout with Tarik Black taking Randle’s spot in the front court, giving Los Angeles a more traditional lineup. Miscues continued, however, and the Nuggets attempted to build on their lead. Black converted an and-one and Clarkson, who played the entire quarter, stayed aggressive, but the Lakers still couldn’t keep up.
The quarter drew to a close with Denver up, 35-23 after a Russell turnover and runout layup.
Tyler Ennis entered the game in place of Clarkson, but the Nuggets onslaught continued until a pair off of fast break dunks for Brewer off of turnovers got them going. Still, Denver is in a dog fight for the 8th seed in the West while the Lakers are experimenting with lineups, and the teams played like it.
Denver looked like they wanted to put their foot on the gas pedal, but Russell found Black with a slick pass to keep the Denver lead in single digits. Gallinari continued to convert on tough looks for Denver, and Russell was out-of-sync on his next pass to Black. Jamal Murray blew past Ennis for a dunk, and suddenly the Nuggets lead ballooned to 14.
More Lakers turnovers allowed Denver to run out for easy buckets, but at least one was blocked by a quickly recovering Nwaba. A pair of Juancho Hernangomez threes found the bottom of the net, and suddenly Denver’s’ lead was 22 and the Lakers were quickly falling apart.
Finally, the Lakers were able to get a turnover of their own and a Clarkson layup, but Will Barton came right back with an and-one to keep the pressure on. Walton picked up a technical, and with the game quickly slipping away, Metta World Peace was put on the floor, because at this point, why not?
MWP made a nice move to the basket to draw free throws, but the Denver lead was still 61-34. After a stop, Ennis had a nice take that resulted in an and-one. MWP had a pretty drop pass to Zubac for a slam, but other than that it was essentially all Nuggets.
The half came to a close with Denver up 67-43.
The Lakers started the second half with the same lineup that they began the game with. Ingram found Nwaba on a nice backdoor cut for a dunk, but Jokic and Gallinari both appeared determined to not miss shots. A Gary Harris three and jumper from Jokic pushed the lead to 30 as Los Angeles groaned.
Another Lakers turnover created an easy bucket for Plumlee and prompted Walton to call an early timeout. Clarkson drained a pair of threes, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to start, but the Nuggets lead seemed secure.
The Lakers persisted anyway and did chip into Denver’s lead byt a few points, but with a game that is this far out of hand that isn’t saying much. Plumlee unleashed a highlight dunk, but Ingram responded by taking him off the dribble and actually bodying Plumlee off the spot for a finish, which was a pleasant surprise.
With four minutes remaining the quarter, the Nuggets lead was 86-65, which means that the Lakers were making up some ground. After a timeout, Russell, Black, and Nance came on for Los Angeles, but Denver quickly hit a three. Ingram responded with a pretty jumper of his own, but if the Lakers plan on getting back into this thing, they can’t continue to give up easy looks.
Despite the big lead, a positive for the Lakers was that they won the third quarter. A bucket by Clarkson at the buzzer made the score 93-76, which meant that the Lakers weren’t completely out of it.
Denver opened up the second half with a three and then a dunk for Murray off of a Lakers turnover, which was promptly followed by another turnover, which quickly extinguished thoughts of a comeback.
Plumlee threw down another highlight-reel dunk and the Nuggets lead was back up to 28. On the sidelines, Walton looked less than pleased. Zubac, who was having a nice game, scored his 18th point after a timeout.
Essentially, with the game decided, we saw individual Lakers continue to work hard, but the team chemistry just wasn’t there. Russell was able to get a steal but his layup attempt was blocked by Barton. Zubac continued to pour it on, scoring his 22nd point to go along with 10 rebounds.
Emmanuel Mudiay made an appearance for Denver, bringing back memories of the Russell vs Mudiay rivalry that has brewed since the 2015 NBA Draft. Roy Hibbert also made it onto the floor and hit a revenge basket against the Lakers.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets had coasted to a 129-101 victory.