After a long four days off the Los Angeles Lakers returned to action Tuesday night when they hosted the Denver Nuggets.
Tuesday also marked the return to action of Lakers starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, who missed the team’s last three games with a multitude of leg injuries.
Los Angeles was without its starting power forward in the game though, as Julius Randle missed his second consecutive game with pneumonia. Tarik Black got the start at power forward in his place.
Denver was also without a couple key players though, as starting center and one of the NBA’s bright young stars Nikola Jokic also missed his second straight game with a strained right hip and starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay missed the game with a lower back injury.
The Lakers looked to get back in the win column, having lost three straight and eight of their last nine.
The Lakers got off to a quick start, as they scored a quick eight points causing Nuggets head coach Mike Malone to call a timeout. Nick Young had four of those while Russell and Tarik Black had a bucket apiece.
Gary Harris nailed a long two out of the timeout to cut the deficit to 8-2, but Deng then answered right back with a running layup.
The Nuggets rank third in the league in scoring, but the Lakers were able to play some nice defense and expanded their lead to 17-6 midway through the first quarter.
Denver then went on a 10-0 run though to get within one of the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson broke that run with a running jumper, but Harris responded with a quick three to tie the game at 19.
One the Nuggets offense got going the Lakers, playing with a very young lineup, had trouble stopping it. Los Angeles hung in offensively though, and the game was tied at 30 after one quarter.
Rookie center Ivica Zubac continued his recent stretch of good play, as he had a dunk early in the second quarter. He was also fouled on the play and converted the free throw to give him nine early points.
Other than three turnovers by Jordan Clarkson early in the second, the Lakers continued to look strong offensively as Brandon Ingram followed up Zubac’s dunk with a dunk of his own, putting the Lakers ahead 35-34.
Denver, led by Kenneth Faried, killed the Lakers on the offensive glass throughout the first half, as midway through the second quarter they already had 11 offensive rebounds, which makes things even harder for a team that was already struggling defensively.
Neither team had a lead bigger than three for much of the second quarter though, as they exchanged baskets for much of the quarter.
Black finished a layup while getting fouled with the Lakers trailing 53-50. He missed the free throw though so the deficit remained at one.
Denver closed the quarter strong, and went into halftime with a 59-54 lead. Faried had a very impressive first half, finishing with a game-high 12 points and 14 rebounds. Wilson Chandler also had 12 points, while Nick Young led the Lakers with 10 points.
The Nuggets lead expanded to eight early in the third quarter, but the Lakers quickly erased that lead as after an and-one by Young. He could not complete the three-point play, so the Lakers deficit was one point at 63-62.
A couple minutes later Russell found Young for a fast break dunk, and the Lakers regained the lead at 66-65. Timofey Mozgov then had four straight points to exand the lead up to five, causing Denver to call a timeout.
After a three by Denver, Young connected on back-to-back threes, and the Lakers lead expanded to eight. Denver regained momentum and cut the deficit to five heading into the fourth quarter though.
That momentum stayed with the Nuggets to begin the fourth quarter, as they scored the first six points of the quarter to take back the lead at 82-81 causing Luke Walton to use a timeout.
The lead got as high as six for Denver before Deng drained a three to cut it back down to three. Rookie Jamal Murray responded with a three of his own, but from there Lou Williams took over for Los Angeles.
With the Lakers trailing by seven he completed an and-one, and then follwed up a three by Chandler with a three of his own to cut the deficit to four. The Lakers then got a stop on defense and Zubac hit a two-pointer to cut the deficit to two with just under six minutes remaining.
Jameer Nelson hit a three to bring it back to five, but Williams followed with a three and a layup to tie the game at 103. At that point the Lakers had hit nine straight shots, with Williams scoring 11 of them.
After the Lakers got another stop, Young hit a three from the corner to once again regain the lead for the Lakers. Danilo Galinari responded immediately with an emphatic dunk. He was also fouled and converted the free throw to tie the game with four minutes left.
Five straight points by Harris gave the Nuggets a three point lead, but Zubac got that down to one as a layup attempt of his was goal-tended by Faried. After Nelson missed a long two, Williams and Zubac both converted on layups to put the Lakers up by three.
Los Angeles had the ball up by one and under a minute remaining, and Russell converted on a midrange jumper to put the Lakers up three with 43 seconds left.
Faried connected on one-of-two free throws, so the Lakers had the ball with limited time left. Denver fouled Russell with 12 seconds left, and he made both free throws to put his team up by four.
Denver then made a layup with four seconds left, but again fouled Russell who made both free throws to put the game out of reach as the Lakers completed a 120-116 win.
Russell had a career-high in assists with 10 to go along with 22 points. Young led the Lakers with 23 points, while Williams added 21 off the bench. Zubac had a career-high 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
Chandler led the way for the Nuggets with 26 points off the bench while Faried had 14 points and 17 rebounds.
The Lakers will travel to take on the Washington Wizards Thursday at 4 p.m.