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Kobe Bryant's farewell tour continues in Denver as Nuggets face Los Angeles Lakers

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Kobe Bryant returns to the Pepsi Center for the second-to-last time of his career as the Nuggets try to get back on track against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets will host the next stage of the farewell tour for Kobe Bryant when the Denver Nuggets take on the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets are coming off their worst defensive effort of the season, giving up 130 points to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night in a five-point loss. To make matters worse, Danilo Gallinari rolled his ankle and Darrell Arthur re-aggravated his knee injury and both are questionable to play tonight, in addition to the myriad of injuries the Nuggets already have. Regardless, the Nuggets should look at this game as a must-win if they want to stay within striking distance of .500, since they start a brutal three-game road trip immediately following tonight's game, including contests against the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have also lost two in a row and are coming off an atrocious performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a game they lost 78-118, prompting Byron Scott to call his team "pathetic" and note that they seemed "scared" against their competition. Not at all surprisingly, this did not yield positive reactions from his players.

The Lakers were without Bryant in that game, as he was recovering from a shoulder injury, but he is expected to play tonight against an arena full of fans most likely watching him live for the last time, unless they come back for the contest on March 2. The goal for the Nuggets is to show the same offensive prowess as they did on Sunday, while bringing a much better defensive focus against scorers like Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams, who both had good games the last time these two teams faced one another.

The Basics:

Who: Los Angeles Lakers (4-23) at Denver Nuggets (11-16)
When:
7:00 PM MST
Where:
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

Where to Watch:
Altitude TV
Rival Blog:
Silver Screen and Roll

Los Angeles Lakers Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Jordan Clarkson Jameer Nelson Lakers
SG Lou Williams Gary Harris Lakers
SF Kobe Bryant Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Larry Nance, Jr. Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Roy Hibbert Joffrey Lauvergne Nuggets
Bench D'Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Robert Sacre, Julius Randle, Tarik Black, Metta World Peace, Marcelo Huertas, Brandon Bass, Anthony Brown Will Barton, Randy Foye, Kostas Papanikolaou, Nikola Jokic, Mike Miller, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson Even

Injured Players: Jusuf Nurkic, knee (out), Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Emmanuel Mudiay, ankle (out), Danilo Gallinari, ankle (questionable), Darrell Arthur, knee (questionable), Kobe Bryant, shoulder (probable)

Key Matchup: Kobe Bryant vs. Danilo Gallinari

This is the key matchup for a few reasons. For starters, this is Bryant's night, so everybody will have their eyes on him. Secondly, he has been playing better as of late. He's scored at least 20 points in four of his last six games, and has an improved field goal percentage of 48.3% in those games, compared to his season average of 33.9% from the field. In his last effort, he had 22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and an age-defying dunk against the Houston Rockets. Gallinari, meanwhile, is the Nuggets' best player and was greatly missed when he couldn't finish the game against the Pelicans. Lastly, both players are coming off injuries, so it will be interesting to see if either of them can make a positive impact. If Gallinari is unable to play, the Nuggets may struggle to find offense throughout the game, and that will hurt their chances of winning this one.

Thing to Watch: The Nuggets on defense

It's no secret that the Nuggets played horrible on defense two nights ago. They gave up a whopping 130 points, 56.4% on field goal attempts, and 45.8% from the three-point line. It was an embarrassing performance on that end, but despite all of it, the Nuggets gave themselves a chance to win by playing one of their best offensive games of the season. Still, I'll be surprised if the Nuggets don't come out with more of a defensive focus tonight after coach Michael Malone berated the team's effort in that area after the last game.

Harrison Wind of BSN Denver also tweeted that Malone said he was going to put the Nuggets through a long and hard practice in an attempt to get to the root of the problem, so the thing to watch tonight is whether or not they look improved. The Lakers average 96.6 points a game, so with a good defensive effort the Nuggets should have no problem holding them to below 100 points.

Key Question: Will the Pepsi Center be packed with fans hoping to see Bryant one last time before he retires?