The Denver Nuggets came into Tuesday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers severely undersized, as Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic were forced to sit out with back injuries. Despite this, a dominant performance by Kenneth Faried, who scored 28 points and had 15 rebounds, and a surprising performance from J.J. Hickson allowed the Nuggets' frontcourt to still do damage against Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert. Emmanuel Mudiay also notched his first double-double of his young NBA career with 12 points and 10 assists. All of this helped the Nuggets beat the Lakers despite a career performance from Jordan Clarkson, who had a game-high 30 points.
The contest opened with Randle scoring the first 5 points for the Lakers, while his opposing power forward, Faried, scored the first 4 for the Nuggets. The first points from a player not named Randle or Faried came with a three-pointer by Kobe Bryant at just over the 10-minute mark. Three-pointers went on to kill the Nuggets early as the Lakers took a 20-10 lead at one point after multiple threes by Clarkson and Bryant. The Nuggets were able to stay within reach and eventually close the gap, however, with a series of plays where Mudiay dished and others finished. Check out some of these plays below.
Mudiay showing he's a true point guard https://t.co/QByINoUf1w— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) November 4, 2015
Mudiay and Faried doing damage tonight https://t.co/cavaVRulOg— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) November 4, 2015
Mike Miller made an appearance at just over three minutes to play in the first quarter, and he made his presence felt immediately by knocking down a three. The second unit would go on to erase the progress of the starters after that as they struggled to score and the Lakers' lead was quickly extended once again. Another three by Miller and a jump shot by Jameer Nelson to end the quarter, however, closed the gap for the Nuggets as the score was 30-36 headed into the second. Clarkson had an impressive 14 points in the first to lead the Lakers while Faried had 10 of his own to lead the Nuggets in their highest scoring quarter of the season.
In the second quarter, Miller finally allowed the Nuggets to achieve the lead after his third three-pointer, putting the score at 37-36. The starters, with the exception of Hickson, were all back in around the 6-minute mark, but the Nuggets were still unable to pull away and the lead went back-and-forth the rest of the half. The first 24 minutes ended with lead of 60-57, and 20 points each by Faried and Clarkson.
Danilo Gallinari opened the second half with his first field goal of the game coming in the form of a jump shot, but it was immediately answered by a three from D'Angelo Russell. A Nuggets turnover and a basket by Randle forced the Nuggets to take a quick timeout, but afterward the Nuggets were able to go on a 9-0 run to take the lead once again. A highlight in the third quarter came when Mudiay hit a three-pointer while forcing Russell to get his fourth foul of the game and head to the bench. Oh, yeah, Mudiay also did this:
Well, this was nice https://t.co/uZwi8k8IjA— Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica) November 4, 2015
These plays helped the Nuggets pull away, despite Clarkson continuing to do damage, and the Nuggets were able to take a 10-point lead going into the fourth.
The second unit finally got into a rhythm with some good plays by Will Barton after the Lakers seriously threatened to take the lead, but it's still painfully obvious that the bench really struggles to score at times, leading fans to the conclusion that Wilson Chandler cannot get back soon enough. After fouling Lou Williams on a three-point attempt after most of the starters had returned, a play that happened way too much throughout the game, the Lakers were able to close within three. An amazing and-one shot by Gallo put the Nuggets back up by six, though, and the Lakers would never be that close again. Despite this, it was a relatively close game throughout, as the biggest lead for the Nuggets was only 11 points.
Key Matchup: Emmanuel Mudiay vs. D'Angelo Russell
The first half of this matchup was pretty even, as both point guards really struggled to score but were doing nice jobs of finding their teammates. They each only had 2 points in the first half, with 5 assists by Russell and 4 by Mudiay. Mudiay got into a much better rhythm in the second half, however, and he finished the game with a double-double. He struggled from the field, but managed to make 3 three-pointers on only 4 attempts, all of which helped the Nuggets pull away. Russell, meanwhile, did not even close the game for the Lakers and he finished with 7 points and 6 assists.
Mudiay is clearly the winner of this matchup, as he came through when the Nuggets needed him the most, and some of his passes were downright amazing. Despite his 6 turnovers and his struggle to hit shots, he had a positive impact on his team and was a big reason why the Nuggets won this game.
Things to Watch: Back issues for the frontcourt
The Nuggets could definitely have used Lauvergne and Jokic in this one, but the play from Hickson and Faried was so good that it wasn't blatantly obvious the team was playing so undersized throughout the entire game. Hickson had 17 points and 7 rebounds while Faried's energy and offense hurt the Lakers all night long. Randle was able to put together a nice game, as he scored 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, but Faried and Hickson both won their matchups against Randle and Hibbert. With that being said, hopefully Lauvergne and Jokic can get healthy as soon as possible, because the Nuggets will surely struggle against better frontcourt lineups without them.
Key question: Will the Nuggets' offense get back on track against a team that is giving up 115.7 points a game, most in the NBA?
The Nuggets were definitely better from the offensive standpoint, obvious by the fact that they put up 120 points. They finished the game with a 50.6% field goal percentage, and 35% from the three-point line. They still missed too many jump shots in my opinion, though, which will have to improve if the Nuggets want to beat NBA teams better than the Lakers.
Gallinari struggled mightily from the field in the first half, but he continued to attack the basket and finished the game with 21 points. The bench still needs to find a better offensive rhythm, but 3 three-pointers from Miller and 10 points by Will Barton kept them afloat and prevented too much damage from being done while the starters were on the bench. Overall, it was a much better outing than the last couple of games for the Nuggets, and hopefully it carries over into Thursday night's game against the Utah Jazz.
Box score via espn.com