Head coach Luke Walton has seen it all 16 games into the season, with the Los Angeles Lakers currently holding a 6-10 record. His time as head coach has come with teachable moments, as his team now moves forward in lieu of their Sunday clash at Staples Center against Jusuf Nurkic and the Denver Nuggets.
After a physical back and forth contest Friday night, the Lakers were unable to capture the victory against the Phoenix Suns, losing by a score of 122-113. Led by Kyle Kuzma’s career high and another solid effort from Brandon Ingram, the Lakers once again didn’t back down from the challenge, but were unable to make that decisive move to capture and maintain the lead.
The 9-6 Nuggets come to Los Angeles fresh off of a win against the New Orleans Pelicans, with Jokic and Paul Millsap matching up against DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, who would leave the contest with a concussion. Denver has one of the premier frontcourts in the Western Conference, presenting a tough task to the young Lakers.
At the same time, this presents an opportunity for the Lakers to capture a victory against another up and coming team in the West, a conference that has been up for grabs thus far this season.
After a frenzy of an offseason, Denver emerged with their largest free agent signing in franchise history, signing Millsap to a two-year, $61 million contract. While also having a team option in 2019, the All-star is set for an annual base salary of $30 million a season. He has also fit well with the Nuggets thus far, especially meshing on the court with Jokic.
Jokic’s passing ability from the paint hasn’t been seen since the likes of Pau Gasol during his prime with the Lakers, able to throw passes that only a seven-foot center could make. This creates passing lanes in the paint, with Millsap moving excellently off the ball. Jokic is posting averages of 16.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, while Millsap is contributing 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game.
Alongside those two is veteran Wilson Chandler, an impact player that affects every facet of the game. While his on-ball defense remains solid, his high basketball IQ also has him affecting passing lanes and creating easy scoring opportunities.
Brook Lopez continues to headline the frontcourt for Los Angeles, set for another matchup against a fellow scoring center. The two will go back and forth in the paint, with Lopez having a strong skill set from the post. Even though his three-pointers haven’t been falling at a consistent rate, he brings an aggressive approach from the paint.
Kuzma, coming off of his career-high performance, has certainly exceeded expectations thus far and is excelling in his new role. The rookie has surpassed 20 points in three of his last four games, turning into a capable scorer when having that confidence on the court.
Ingram has also been able to step up of late, showing progress on the court that many were quickly knocking off. He was the subject of criticism early on the in season, with that steady dose of unnecessary hate shifting over to his point guard of late. Ingram has put together 43 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, and four blocks over the last two games.
Julius Randle will also be a difference maker on Sunday, learning to take advantage of his abilities when matched up against the opposing bench. Andrew Bogut has also adjusted nicely to his role with his new team, turning into the ideal defensive matchup against other scoring big men. Corey Brewer has also been able to take advantage of his opportunities off the bench, as a wing defender and scoring option when at an up-tempo pace.
The Nuggets young backcourt also has been able to carry the scoring load, with streaky shooters that can put a game out of reach. Los Angeles will need to rely on their frontcourt to secure the rebounding situation, as it will be difficult to crash the boards with the deadly shooters spotting up.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris combined for 53 points against the Pelicans Friday night, combining for seven three-pointers on efficient shooting. Emmanuel Mudiay has also had a resurrection of sorts this season, making an impact off the bench for Denver. Mudiay becomes dangerous in the open court when surrounded by shooters, creating driving lanes for him to capitalize on.
2016 first-round pick Malik Beasley is also another guard off the bench for head coach Michael Malone, as his team has made a strong case for playoff consideration this season.
The question surrounding the Lakers over the past week has been the complications surrounding Lonzo Ball, with sub-par performances as he continues to acclimate himself against the NBA. While those around the NBA understand that he will be fine, he still has a tough hill to climb in order to find his groove. He has maintained his same calm demeanor, a staple of his personality, but has been prone to outbursts on the court of late.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been a spark plug for the starting lineup, as another option that has an impact on both ends of the court. He was front and center in the scuffle against the Suns Friday night, as he and rookie Josh Jackson had to be separated by their teammates. His pestering defense has been known to irritate opposing guards, while he has found a shooting rhythm on the court of late.
Guard Jordan Clarkson saw only 17 minutes off the bench Friday night, in one of his least impactful games of the season. However, he has the capacity to make a difference each and every night, with his athleticism and ability to drive hard to the rim.
Three Keys To Victory:
Off-Ball Defense: With stellar shooters in the starting lineup at the guard position, Ball, Caldwell-Pope, and the other guards will need to stay on top of their assignments, limiting their open opportunities.
Create for One Another: Although the Nuggets can score the ball, they have a difficult time limiting their opponents on defense. The Lakers need to take advantage of their opportunities, especially when in the paint. They need to attack the basket and find opportunities for each other in order to be successful.
Limit Offensive Rebounds: Chandler, Millsap, and Nurkic all make a living off the glass, crashing the boards with each shot attempt put up. With the Lakers guards having to remain with Harris and Murray, the big men need to box out and limit second-chance opportunities.
Los Angeles Lakers (6-10) Vs. Denver Nuggets (9-6)
6:30 P.M. PST, November 18, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves:Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer, Andrew Bogut
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Wilson Chandler
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Will Barton
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