After picking up their first win of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers now return to Staples Center to face the undefeated Denver Nuggets in the second of a back-to-back. The game is the last the Lakers will need to play without Rajon Rondo as he completes a three-game suspension.
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While the veteran has served the penalty handed down by the NBA for his role in a fight with Chris Paul, the Lakers inserted Lonzo Ball into the starting lineup. He’s performed well under the expanded role, and perhaps more importantly, is healthy and working back into shape.
Thursday’s game figures to provide another test for the second-year guard as Jamal Murray has developed something of a personal vendetta against him. After showing Ball at the end of a game at Pepsi Center, Murray was hounded with boos during the Nuggets’ next visit to Los Angeles.
The player Murray is now up against is one with more confidence and who’s improved from his rookie year, which should make the matchup all the more intriguing.
However, both teams are shorthanded. In addition to Rondo, the Lakers still do not have Brandon Ingram (suspension) and Moritz Wagner (left knee contusion). Meanwhile, the Nuggets are without Will Barton (right hip/core surgery), Michael Porter Jr. (low back surgery), Isaiah Thomas (right hip surgery) and Jarred Vanderbilt (right foot surgery).
That has made their 4-0 start to the season all the more impressive. They stand as one of the NBA’s five undefeated teams behind an average margin of victory of over 13 points. Denver has done so behind a stingy defense that leads the league in steals per game (10) and is tied with the Boston Celtics in defensive rating (97.3).
The Lakers figure to test the Nuggets with the fourth-best offense and one that ranks second in pace. Seven players scored in double figures on Wednesday, and LeBron James, among others was able to get a jump start on rest and treatment.
Offensively, the Nuggets heavily rely on Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 23.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists. He not only will test JaVale McGee, who’s been impressive in his own right, but the Lakers’ depth behind him.
With Kyle Kuzma starting in place of Ingram, it’s largely removed him from playing backup center. That was hardly successful, anyhow, which could mean Jonathan Williams again finds himself in the spotlight.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-3) vs. Denver Nuggets (4-0)
7:30 P.M. PT, Oct. 25, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, TNT
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Josh Hart
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, Johnathan Williams
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Torrey Craig
PF: Pau Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic