The Los Angeles Lakers opened up their preseason with two straight games against the Denver Nuggets, exposing a major flaw as they had no one to combat cornerstone big man Nikola Jokic.
Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic reminded everyone of that same issue as Nikola Vucevic dominated the Lakers for the second time this season. Now the Lakers get another chance to correct those big-man issues against Jokic and the Nuggets.
Denver has won three straight games despite dealing with injuries. Will Barton remains out with a hip injury while shooting guard Gary Harris has been dealing with an ankle issue that kept him out of the Nuggets’ most recent victory. Harris is a game-time decision, but regardless, things for the Nuggets revolve around Jokic.
One of the NBA’s most unique players, Jokic is averaging 16.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists while relying on his size, skill and intelligence to make up for his lack of elite speed and athleticism. JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler must do a good job of containing Jokic with single coverage as double-teaming him will allow one of the league’s best passers pick apart the Lakers defense.
Just as important for the Lakers will be controlling the Nuggets on the boards, in particular the offensive glass. Jokic, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, Juan Hernangomez and Torrey Craig all average at least 1.5 offensive rebounds per game.
The point guard matchup could very well be the deciding factor in this contest and Lonzo Ball and Jamal Murray have their history dating back to last season. Ball has been far more aggressive offensively as of late and the Lakers will rely on him to continue that style of play.
Defensively, Ball will need to stay focused on Denver’s leading scorer. Overall, Murray’s efficiency has dropped from a season ago, shooting just 42.9 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep. However, he is more than capable of getting scorching hot, as his 48-point performance earlier this month showed.
LeBron James also gets one of his best matchups in the league in Nuggets forward Paul Millsap. One of the NBA’s best overall defenders and the spearhead of the Nuggets’ top-10 defense, Millsap is capable of making things tougher on James than most. If James is able to get him in foul trouble it could go a long way to a Lakers victory.
Of course, even if the Lakers are getting to the line, they have to actually convert when they get there. The Lakers have shot under 75 percent from the line in three straight contests with the last two of those being under 65 percent.
During this same three-game stretch the Lakers are also averaging nearly 19 turnovers per game a terrible combination which would spell doom in the Mile High city.
The first meeting between these two teams was one of the Lakers’ most exciting victories of the season. They outshot Denver from deep, hit over 80 percent of their free throws, turned the ball over just 13 times while forcing 19 from the Nuggets, and were basically even on the glass.
The Lakers will also need a big performance from one of their role players. Aside from Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma needing to become a more consistent second scorer, it will be on Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Lance Stephenson to step up and give the Lakers a real boost.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-8) vs. Denver Nuggets (13-7)
6:00 P.M. PT, November 27, 2018
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBATV
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Brandon Ingram
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, Josh Hart, Tyson Chandler
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris (or Torrey Craig)
SF: Juan Hernangomez
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Mason Plumlee, Trey Lyles, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley