The Los Angeles Lakers welcome their point guard back as D’Angelo Russell will after missing the last three games to take on the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers lost all three of their games without Russell, so they have to be hoping his return brings a spark to this team.
Unfortunately, the Lakers will be without starting power forward Julius Randle who has been dealing with pneumonia. The Lakers hosted the Nuggets just two weeks ago, falling 127-121 despite a late comeback effort.
Denver will also be without a major player as Nikola Jokic is out with a hip injury and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is questionable with lower back issues. Despite that, they still find themselves as the Western Conference’s 8th seed right now and come into this game having won three straight, and seven of their last nine.
The Lakers will be happy to get Russell back in the lineup as the offense struggled in his absence, particularly the starters. Russell is the team’s best playmaker and is capable of getting other players going with his passing. With Randle out and Brandon Ingram struggling, the pressure will really be on Russell to elevate his teammates.
Next to him, Nick Young continues to be one of the Lakers’ most consistent players and their best shooter. He is shooting nearly 42 percent from deep on the year and is always a threat to get hot at any moment.
Jordan Clarkson has been hit or miss off the bench recently as he can have great scoring games but has struggled in other areas, particularly defensively. Lou Williams meanwhile, continues to stake his claim as the best bench scorer in the NBA. He has almost single-handedly kept the Lakers in games at times and is averaging over 23 points a game over the last five.
If Mudiay is unable to go for the Nuggets, veteran Jameer Nelson will step into his spot. Nelson isn’t nearly as explosive or athletic but is a much better shooter especially from three-point range. Gary Harris is the shooting guard and is someone the Lakers can’t lose track of. He has struggled recently shooting from deep, but he is more than capable of a breakout game.
Denver has a couple of very dangerous guards off the bench in rookie Jamal Murray and the always-dangerous Will Barton. Both are talented scorers, and Barton, in particular, has given the Lakers nightmares over the last couple seasons.
Luke Walton has spoken about potentially turning everything over to the young core soon, but that time hasn’t come just yet, and veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov will maintain their starting spots for the time being.
Mozgov has had his moments this season and remains the Lakers’ best post defender. Deng has struggled for the majority of the year but will be counted on tonight to contain Danilo Gallinari who is Denver’s best offensive weapon with Jokic out.
Who will start in place of Randle remains a mystery. Tarik Black got the call against Utah’s big lineup, and he could be turned to again. Larry Nance Jr. has looked great since returning from injury and brought defense and energy. The Lakers could also go small and start Ingram while moving Deng up to the power forward spot. Regardless, all three and rookie Ivica Zubac are likely to see significant minutes.
Jusuf Nurkic steps into the starting lineup for the Nuggets in place of Jokic. While not the overall talent of Jokic, Nurkic is a big, bruising body who can score down low and pound the boards. Speaking of the boards, Kenneth Faried remains a never-ending ball of energy who can change the game with his activity and effort on the glass. The Lakers must make sure to keep a body on him at all times.
Gallinari has finally been healthy for most of this year and is the Nuggets’ best scorer with Jokic gone. He scored 32 points in Denver’s first game minus Jokic and can put the ball in the basket a number of ways. Deng, Ingram, Nance, and Young will all likely see some time on him and must make him work for every basket.
Off the bench, Wilson Chandler is one of the league’s best scorers off the bench at over 15 points a game while Darrell Arthur gives Denver some size and athleticism.
Three Keys To Victory:
It’s been an issue all year for the Lakers, and in the first game between these teams they gave up 40 points to Denver and were down double-digits quickly. The Nuggets are a great offensive team, and the Lakers can’t be forced to play catch-up all night. Hopefully, the return of Russell can spark the team to get off to a strong start.
Clear the Defensive Glass
Defense has been an issue all year for the Lakers, but many times they have an excellent defensive possession only to allow an offensive rebound. Denver is one of the best in the NBA at crashing the offensive glass, and the Lakers can’t afford to give this high-powered offense multiple chances.
Los Angeles Lakers (16-34) Vs. Denver Nuggets (21-25)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 31, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Ivica Zubac, Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jameer Nelson
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Jamal Murray, Darrell Arthur