The Los Angeles Lakers honored the late, great Kobe Bryant in a long-awaited pre-game statue unveiling on Thursday afternoon. Then, the team sports their Black Mamba uniforms as they take on the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets in the first game following a quiet NBA trade deadline.
The Lakers opted to make no moves at the deadline, instead banking on internal improvement and potential buyout candidates as they push their chips toward the 2024 offseason, when they’ll have three first-round picks at their disposal. This means the usual cast of characters — D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and others — are next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Nuggets in town.
L.A. has won their last three games, the first time they’ve done so since early December. This includes impressive wins over the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, but the Nuggets are another significant challenge. Denver swept L.A. in the Western Conference Finals last season and have followed that up by being tied for the best record in the conference through 51 games.
Nikola Jokić is putting together another MVP caliber season next to his supporting cast of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury and is out of this game.
The Lakers are without Gabe Vincent, Cam Reddish and Jarred Vanderbilt, all of whom are sporting long-term injuries. These injuries have been less of an issue thanks to recent outstanding play from Russell and Reaves, in particular.
The one-two guard punch has helped lift a small weight off of James and Davis’ shoulders offensively. Russell is averaging 24.0 points and 6.5 assists on 46.6/46.6/88.4 shooting splits since being re-inserted into the starting lineup on Jan. 13.
Unfortunately though, Russell was a late scratch from this game with knee soreness. He received an injection on Tuesday and despite not originally being on the injury report, he was downgraded to questionable after warming up and has since been ruled out.
On a night honoring Bryant, emotions are going to be running expectedly high. L.A. has struggled to win games on nights honoring Bryant in the past few years — and for good reason — but Thursday represents a chance for the Lakers to steal another big win in a recent hot stretch.
Los Angeles Lakers (27-25) vs. Denver Nuggets (35-16)
Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, 7:00 p.m. PT
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Austin Reaves
SG: Max Christie
SF: Rui Hachimura
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Jaxson Hayes, Taurean Prince, Christian Wood
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Justin Holiday
SF: Michael Porter Jr.
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Jokić
Key Reserves: Christian Braun, Reggie Jackson, Peyton Watson
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