The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to avoid a four-game losing streak and dropping seven of their last eight. However, they’ll have to go through a scorching Denver Nuggets team in what could be a potential first-round preview without LeBron James in the lineup once again.
The Nuggets have won five straight games and nine of their last 10, with their most recent win coming against the L.A. Clippers to help move them up to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. If the regular season ended today, the Lakers would be No. 6, meaning they would face the Nuggets in the first round.
For so many reasons, this game is huge for the Lakers. As losers of their last three and six of their last seven, L.A. desperately needs to get rhythm and momentum against a much better opponent than they’ve been playing. They also need to prove to themselves they can beat potential playoff opponents before the postseason actually arrives.
Tonight, they’ll need to do so without Dennis Schroder or James in the lineup. Schroder was ruled out of Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Toronto Raptors due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Then, Monday morning, it was announced that he would miss 10-14 days, signaling a possible positive coronavirus (COVID-19) test.
Meanwhile, James was ruled out on Monday after being removed from Sunday’s game with soreness in his ankle. For now, there is no indication whether or not he’ll need to miss more time or if this is just a precautionary measure.
The Lakers’ offense struggled without one of their main ball handlers on Sunday, and the defense was even worse. Schroder has proven himself to be a pest against opposing point guards, and they will miss that for perhaps the entire remainder of the regular season. On Monday, they’ll be without their top two ball handlers, putting extra weight on Anthony Davis.
The Nuggets present an entirely different set of challenges than the Raptors did, and perhaps that will work to the Lakers’ benefit. With Jamal Murray out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL — and with Will Barton and Monte Morris already being ruled out for the Lakers game as well — almost all of the Nuggets production comes from their frontcourt, mainly MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr.
With Schroder out, the Lakers are actually better equipped to guard big men than guards, giving them at least one advantage against a team that has simply been better than them over the last couple of weeks.
The Lakers need to start winning these games, especially as they face a tough week ahead. After the Nuggets on Monday, their next three opponents are all Western Conference playoff teams in the Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns.
Perhaps a win tonight would be huge for momentum purposes and giving the Lakers a mindset of playoff mode as they gear up for the postseason and avoid the play-in tournament.
Lakers (36-28) vs. Nuggets (43-21)
7:00 p.m. PT, May 3, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Alex Caruso
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris, Wesley Matthews, Ben McLemore, Marc Gasol
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Facundo Campazzo
SG: PJ Dozier
SF: Michael Porter Jr.
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Austin Rivers, JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap, Shaquille Harrison
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