After back-to-back uninspiring losses, the Los Angeles Lakers travel to the Mile High City, hoping to get back on track as they face MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
Jokic has once again been one of the best players in the NBA this season, and it has helped propel the Nuggets to a top-six seed despite injuries ravaging the roster. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier remain out with long-term injuries.
The Lakers, meanwhile, sit just two games back of the Nuggets in the loss column after losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings dropped them back to .500. L.A. has already had a balanced record 12 times in just 42 games this season.
On the Lakers injury front, Kendrick Nunn and Anthony Davis remain out, despite recent reports that both could return by the end of January.
Carmelo Anthony — who missed his first game of the season against the Kings — has been ruled out once again with a back injury, although he’s considered day-to-day.
Dwight Howard could also miss the game as he is a game-time decision due to left knee soreness. His injury could be significant as defending Jokic is the top priority in head coach Frank Vogel’s mind.
“It starts with Joker, obviously,” Vogel said of the preparation for this game. “A lot of different coverages go into guarding all the action that he’s in. The most unique player in the NBA and a lot of our focus today was to go with unique coverages.”
Why not having Howard could be meaningful is because of the way the veteran big man was able to defend Jokic during their Western Conference Finals matchup in 2020. If he is unable to go, the Lakers would essentially be forced to play small against one of the best big men in basketball.
In recent weeks, Vogel has committed to going small, with LeBron James serving as the team’s primary center. However, against Jokic, the Lakers should strongly consider going big if Howard is available to go. One of Jokic’s best attributes is his ability to punish smaller defenders with crafty post moves and elite passing.
Where L.A. may have an advantage is in the backcourt. The struggles of Russell Westbrook have been well-documented over the past four games, but the Nuggets’ weakness without Murray or Porter Jr. is the perimeter. Monte Morris, Will Barton, Facundo Campazzo and Bones Hyland take up the majority of the guard minutes.
Westbrook could absolutely use a matchup like this to try and get back on track after perhaps the worst shooting stretch of his career. Malik Monk and Austin Reaves should also be able to find success for the same reasons.
The Lakers want to avoid dropping below .500 this late into the season. A win tightens the gap in the standings between them and the Nuggets, and as we learned in the 2020-21 season, staying away from the Play-In Tournament is always a positive.
Lakers (21-21) vs. Nuggets (21-19)
6:00 p.m. PT, Jan. 15, 2022
Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado
TV: NBA TV, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Avery Bradley
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: LeBron James
Key Reserves: Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Stanley Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Monte Morris
SG: Will Barton
SF: Aaron Gordon
PF: Jeff Green
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Facundo Campazzo, Bones Hyland, Austin Rivers, Zeke Nnaji
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