The Los Angeles Lakers are back at Staples Center to take on the Denver Nuggets following their longest road trip of the season. Thursday night is the first of a five-game homestand and it tips of with a Western Conference Finals rematch.
While both teams have undergone roster changes since last meeting in the playoffs, the Lakers will need to contain Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to slow down Denver’s high powered offense. Jokic is having himself a career year on both ends of the floor, averaging 26.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Murray, on the other hand, has not had quite the campaign that he produced in the Orlando bubble but is still averaging 18.9 points, 4.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. The Nuggets’ duo is supported by Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton and Gary Harris.
Denver ranks top five in the league in points and assists per game, along with shooting percentage. In their last five games, the Nuggets are 4-1 while averaging 116.6 points and holding their opponents to just 108.6.
Denver has not played since Jan. 31, as their last game against the Detroit Pistons was postponed due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
The Lakers’ shooting percentages have dipped in their recent games, but head coach Frank Vogel attributed their struggles to the fatigue of being on the road for a prolonged stretch.
The Nuggets are a young athletic team, so it will be interesting to see if Vogel incorporates his shortened rotation with Talen Horton-Tucker, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell while leaving out Wesley Matthew and Markieff Morris.
Utilizing younger talent allows the Lakers to keep up with more fast-paced competition. Vogel employed a similar strategy when facing the dynamic Boston Celtics and again in a win against the Atlanta Hawks.
Because the Nuggets have the ability to knock down shots at high volume, leaving shooters open could allow the game to get out of hand very quickly. In addition, the Lakers have struggled valuing the basketball this season, averaging 14.6 turnovers per game.
Proper defensive rotations and limiting live-ball turnovers will be the keys to success for the Lakers. Allowing teams to get out on the fast break for easy buckets can be the difference between a comfortable win and careless loss.
Nuggets (12-8) Vs. Lakers (16-6)
7:00 p.m. PT, February 4, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Dennis Schroder
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris, Wesley Matthews
Projected Nuggets starting lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Will Barton
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Michael Porter Jr., JaMychal Green, Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo