The Los Angeles Lakers have hit a bit of a rough patch, as they have lost four straight games with three of them coming by double digits. Their most recent loss to the Detroit Pistons was a tough one, as the Lakers led by as many as 14 early, and once again were outplayed in the second half resulting in a 102-97 loss.
They will look to bounce back Tuesday night when they host the Denver Nuggets though, in what many view as an important game for Los Angeles.
After Tuesday the Lakers have one more home game before playing eight of their next 10 on the road, so if the Lakers cannot beat a Nuggets team who is currently on the outside looking in to the postseason, at home, then they likely will not fair well on their upcoming road trip and could fall out of the playoff race altogether.
Point guard D’Angelo Russell has been a bright spot for the Lakers offense in recent weeks. In the last 11 games he has averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He had 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting Sunday against Detroit.
He will be matched up against Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, a matchup that he has said is one of his favorites as Mudiay was drafted just five picks after Russell in 2015.
In his second NBA season Mudiay has not made much improvement from his rookie year, as he averages 12.3 points and 4.2 assists compared to 12.8 points and 5.5 assists last season. He had 18 points and 13 assists in Monday’s win over the Orlando Magic though.
The Nuggets will likely be without their starting shooting guard, Gary Harris, on Tuesday as he injured his ankle Monday and is listed as doubtful. Wilson Chandler or Will Barton are both candidates to replace him in the starting lineup.
Chandler is the team’s second highest scorer at 16.2 points per game, which is his highest average since the 2010-11 season and is quite impressive considering he missed all of last season after undergoing hip surgery.
Lakers sixth man Lou Williams broke out of a bit of a slump Sunday, as he scored 26 points on 7-of-14 shooting. The 26 points were the most for him since he scored 27 on Dec. 22, and it marked the first time he shot at least 50 percent from the field since Dec. 9. Williams is still the second highest bench scorer in the NBA at 17.6 points per game, which is a career-high for the 12th year pro.
The Nuggets frontcourt, led by Europeans Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic, is the real strength of their young team.
Galinari is having another solid season, leading his team in scoring at 17.0 points per game. He has been known as an excellent shooter throughout his career, but he has taken that to a new level this year as he is shooting a career-high 38.2 percent from three-point range.
Jokic, who is in his second season out of Serbia, has become a complete offensive threat this season as he has shown an ability to score in the post, stretch the floor, and is one of the better passing big men in the game. He is currently averaging 13.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 59.4 percent overall from the field and 36.4 percent from three.
He posses some threats for Lakers center Timofey Mozgov in particular, so Tarik Black could be entering the game earlier than usual Tuesday night.
Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried is averaging career lows in both minutes (21.8) and points (9.5) this season, while his 7.9 rebounds per game is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2011-12. He will face the tough challenge of trying to guard Lakers power forward Julius Randle.
Look for Randle to attack the basket against the smaller Faried, as Randle has an inch and about 30 pounds on Faried.
Three Keys To Victory:
Play With Some Heart: The talent level is there with this Lakers team, so there is no reason that they shouldn’t be closing out some of these games. Yes, they are young and inexperienced, but at a certain point they have to get tired of all the losing.
Don’t Get Tense When Playing With A Lead: The Lakers have blown double digit leads many times in the last couple of months, and guard Jordan Clarkson recently said that he believes it’s because they tense up when they get an early lead. If that’s the case then they just need to continue to play loose, which is how they get the lead in the first place.
Contain Gallinari: Gallinari is not just a talented scorer in the NBA, but he has the ability to score a lot in bunches so the Lakers really need to make an effort to close out on him and not leave him any space to shoot or else he can single-handedly beat them.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-30) Vs. Denver Nuggets (16-23)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 17th, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Emmanuel Mudiay
SG: Wilson Chandler
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Will Barton, Juan Hernangomez, Jameer Nelson, Jusuf Nurkic, Jamal Murray
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac