Lakers Vs. Nuggets Preview: Reigning MVP In Town As L.A. Looks To Bounce Back
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers — despite recently improved play — have hit a bit of a skid. They’ve lost four of their last five, including two brutal losses against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. Facing the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, they have to bring their best effort yet again.

The Nuggets have cemented themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference after an offseason that saw them add defensive stalwarts Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown to the elite offensive grouping of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr.

The result has been a team that ranks second in offensive rating, with a solid enough defense to keep them in the top 10 overall. And with Jokic having another MVP-caliber start — averaging 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists — they could make some noise.

Despite that, the Lakers are 1-1 against the Nuggets this season and have a chance to take the lead in the season series. In order to do so, L.A. must find a way to play consistent interior defense without Wenyen Gabriel, who has proven to be an important rotational piece.

After Anthony Davis, the Lakers are struggling to find anyone who can successfully guard the paint. Jokic and Gordon are one of the most lethal forward duos in basketball and could make life difficult for the Lakers in that regard.

But Denver is without Porter Jr., an archetype of player that always gives L.A. troubles. Not having to worry about a big wing that can score in any way imaginable should give the Lakers some breathing room defensively. Without Porter, the Lakers and Nuggets are built in relatively similar ways.

Defensively, Patrick Beverley, Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker, Russell Westbrook and Troy Brown Jr. have their hands full with Pope, Murray and Bones Hyland. None of those players can be left open on the perimeter, and the latter two can get to their spots with ease if given space.

On the offensive end, James and Davis must continue their strong play to take advantage of a Nuggets defense that has vulnerabilities in the paint. Davis has generally performed well when facing up against some of the game’s elite centers, and he has another chance to do so against Jokic.

Los Angeles Lakers (11-16) vs. Denver Nuggets (17-10)

7 p.m. PT, December 16, 2022 Arena, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:

PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Patrick Beverley
SF: Lonnie Walker IV
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis

Key Reserves: Russell Westbrook, Austin Reaves, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Kendrick Nunn

Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:

PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Bruce Brown
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Jokic

Key Reserves: Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji, Jeff Green, Christian Braun, DeAndre Jordan

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