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Preview: Nuggets head to L.A. to face the Lakers

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After a pair of convincing wins, Denver will attempt to steal a third on a back-to-back against the Lakers

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets, fresh off some international travel, team bonding experiences, and a couple of pretty impressive victories head for Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. L.A. lost to Detroit two nights ago, which makes them a little more rested than Denver and a bit angrier. After a 10-10 start to the season, Showtime has gone on the fritz and the Lakers are just 5-20 since. They’ve had some injuries, but mostly they’ve passed less . They rebound decently, but the Nuggets are better. They get to the line a lot, but so do the Nuggets. They rely on backcourt microwaves to get hot and carry the day (which is one reason their assist-figures are terrible) but the Nuggets have had a much more balanced team. Neither team plays defense, but that should favor Denver as well.

So what’s the problem? The Nuggets are terrible on back-to-backs and tend to lose games they should win even if they were rested for this one. The Nuggets have mentioned that all the time together on the London trip has helped to build chemistry, but they’ll have to prove it tonight in the kind of game they’ve dropped all year.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (16-23) at Los Angeles Lakers (15-30)

When: 8:30 P.M. MST

Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles CA

How to watch: Altitude TV, NBA TV

Rival blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Position Nuggets Lakers Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay D'Angelo Russell Even
SG Jameer Nelson Nick Young Lakers
SF Danilo Gallinari Luol Deng Nuggets
PF Kenneth Faried Julius Randle Even
C Nikola Jokic Timofey Mozgov Nuggets
Bench Wilson Chandler, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Juancho Hernangomez Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac, Tarik Black, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams Nuggets

Injury Report: Gary Harris - doubtful (ankle), Darrell Arthur - out (knee soreness), Will Barton - probable (illness), Danilo Gallinari - probable (ankle soreness), Larry Nance Jr - out (bone bruise), Jordan Clarkson - questionable (ankle), Tarik Black, questionable (ankle).

Key matchup: Nuggets vs. fatigue. Denver had the game against Orlando in the bag in the third quarter, but could not put the Magic away with their bench. That meant the starters had to come back out and finish the job, so four starters got 33+ minutes in the game, including 40 for Gallinari and 36 for Jokic. Jameer also had 30+ off the bench, and when you add that to Gary Harris being out with an ankle injury and Will Barton apparently playing 24 minutes with a fever of 105, the Nuggets are not coming in to this matchup well-rested.

Denver is 1-6 on the year on the second half of a back-to-back, and since its calling card is offense with lots of motion and cuts, the Nuggets cannot afford to play a stand-around game where they bomb long jumpers on tired legs. The kind of offense they’re good at has led to 265 points in the last two games. Denver can mitigate the back-to-back fatigue factor by giving significant minutes to its bench rookies, Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez, but it would require altering the rotations and Malone has shown little willingness to do that for non-veterans. It’s something to keep an eye on.

One thing to watch: playing down to the opponent’s level. The Nuggets tend to fare well in games against teams they feel are their equal, but struggle to put away teams they should be better than. The Lakers are a bad team, but a decent home team, and just the sort of team that Denver struggles with. The L.A. front court scored all of 9 points against the Pistons, and even if Jokic is tired the Nuggets have Jusuf Nurkic available to make life difficult inside for L.A. on both ends. D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams both went off in the last game in limited minutes/shots but if Denver can keep the damage to just the guards it should make for a winnable game. If they let end-of-the-bench guys go off for 20, it could be a long night.

Prediction: Jokic scored a career-high 30 against Orlando and Mudiay had a career-high 13 assists to go with 18 efficient points. Those young Nuggets are going to have to find a way to bring that same effort in a back-to-back. Mudiay should be up for this game - he views D’Angelo Russell as a rival and they like to go at each other. Jokic played brilliantly in London after being sick the whole time leading up to the game, so he can find a way to muster up the energy. This is a good game for them to put it together and get a handle on what it takes to win consistently in the NBA.

I was going to go with a loss, because that’s what Denver has done all year in this situation, but we’ll stay optimistic today. 109-100 Nuggets.

Also, enjoy these Jokic highlights against Orlando, because they’re spicy.