The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Denver Nuggets Monday night at Staples Center in their second preseason game.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton was cautious with his injured players, so starting center Brook Lopez missed his second straight game with a back injury.
Rookie Josh Hart also missed the game with an injury and although Andrew Bogut finally got his work visa cleared, he also did not suit up.
The game featured two young teams that could contend for the final few playoff spots in the Western Conference, although Denver seems to be a bit further in their rebuilding process with the signing of Paul Millsap and a young star in Nikola Jokic.
Unlike Saturday night’s game, the Lakers got off to a hot start in this one. Julius Randle once again got them on the scoreboard with a layup. Brandon Ingram then had an and-one layup to put the Lakers up 5-0 early.
The Lakers looked much better defensively to start out the game, rotating accordingly, which led to a 26-18 lead when rookie sensation Kyle Kuzma knocked down a corner three.
Denver continued to find their groove offensively and when guard Jamal Murray knocked down a jumper as time expired the Laker lead was down to just 30-26 after one quarter.
A layup by Jordan Clarkson to start the second quarter was the only bucket for either team for almost three minutes, but a three by Denver eventually ended the drought. Luol Deng, who was making his preseason debut, answered with a corner three of his own though and he had six early points on a pair of threes.
The Lakers second unit didn’t have as much success as they had in Saturday’s game, as the Nuggets controlled the pace for much of the second quarter and went on 17-4 run to take a 49-44 lead.
A three by Lonzo Ball ended that run, and then back-to-back layups by Deng brought the Lakers within two. The Nuggets were able to weather the storm and a three by Gary Harris with 19 seconds left gave the Nuggets a 61-56 halftime lead.
The Lakers had two injury scares in the second quarter as Larry Nance Jr. suffered a finger injury and Ball hurt his ankle but both returned in the second half.
Los Angeles did not come out with the same intensity on the defensive end of the floor to begin the second half, as the Nuggets began the quarter on a 15-4 run to take a 76-60 lead, as both big men, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic knocked down threes.
While the defense continued to struggle, the second unit led by Clarkson, Tyler Ennis, Corey Brewer and Kuzma found their groove offensively in the third quarter. They had a span of six straight field goals made and cut an 18-point deficit down to 11.
Trailing 91-78 with time expiring, Clarkson drove to the basket and drew a foul so when he knocked down both free throws the Lakers trailed 91-80 after three quarters.
Harris continued to torch the Lakers from deep, drilling a three on the opening possession of the fourth quarter to give him a game-high 22 points. He drained another one a few possessions later to bring the Nuggets lead back up to 18, just about putting the game out of reach unless the Lakers had another run in them.
While it looked like a comeback was not going to happen, a unit of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Vander Blue, Kuzma and Thomas Bryant sparked a run late in the fourth quarter.
Kuzma continued to show why he was the steal of the draft, as he scored five straight points late in the game to cut the deficit to just four with under a minute to play. But the magic ended quickly as Kuzma missed a contested three and Denver scored on the other end to bring it back up to a six-point lead.
The Lakers had one last attempt, but Caldwell-Pope missed a three and the Lakers fell 113-107. Harris led all scorers with 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting while Kuzma had another impressive performance, leading the Lakers with 23 points off the bench. Randle finished with the first Lakers double-double of the preseason with 12 points and 10 rebounds.