On a night when basketball seems far less important than it did just a day before, the Nuggets and Lakers took the floor at the Staples Center for the first of two preseason matchups. Following Saturday’s victory over Golden State, Paul Millsap and Emmanuel Mudiay were the talk of the town but this time it was Gary Harris who stole the show. Harris finished with a game-high 25 points on 5-for-7 shooting from three while otherwise filling up the stat sheet and leading a defensive effort that ultimately led to another Nuggets win.
For Denver this game was really a tale of two halves. As in Oakland two nights ago, the Nuggets offense struggled early (LA nightlife, probably). Some of it is definitely getting used to Millsap in the lineup, but that narrative can only go so far. They looked confused and sometimes passed too much as they deferred to one another. Jokic especially seemed lackadaisical in the first half and struggled to find his rhythm until late in the second quarter. From there, though, the Joker was nothing short of phenomenal. His shot was falling from three, he was backing down Zubac with ease, he was fighting for rebounds. The dude even sprinted down the court every play.
While the starters eventually gained their footing, the bench unit did not have the same improvement. Jokic and Harris came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and the Nuggets built a nice 20 point lead. But as soon as the bench came in, the Lakers were able to chip away at the lead, and it wasn’t until Harris came back for a few minutes did the Nuggets really put the Lakers away - for a little bit. Will Barton in particular was frustrating to watch. For reasons unknown, more often than not he ran the point for the second unit while Murray played off-ball. That meant isolation plays, dribbling out the entire shot clock only to take a contested jumper, and he even taking (and missing) a three on a three-on-one fast break. Murray finished with seven points.
Once the starters sat for good, the Lakers comeback began again and a double-digit lead was whittled down to four points. Malone rode out the game with a variety of bench players, and the Nuggets held on despite Kuzma catching fire for Los Angeles to the tune of 23 points.
As expected, Coach Malone made some lineup changes for this game, starting Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard and inserting Kenneth Faried into the backup power forward slot (Lyles was out for rest). Mudiay looked pretty mediocre overall. He hit some shots but also had several Mudiay-esque turnovers throughout the night. True to his word, Faried hustled but defensively he got burned by summer league darling Kyle Kuzma all night long. Neither Mudiay nor Faried did much to convince absolute certainty for their respective roles.
Defensively the Nuggets’ effort was impressive. They smothered switches on the pick and roll, got hands into passing lanes and in general were all over the place. The intensity got to LA, who turned the ball over 20+ times on the night, including 10 in the second quarter alone. Denver still has room for improvement, but no one can deny the effort on that end of the floor.
Paul Millsap quietly had a good night. His stat line wasn’t as impressive as against Golden State, but he impacted the game in other ways. In the first few minutes of the game he blocked a shot, took a charge and drew a foul. His overall impact of the game was limited, however, as he had three fouls early in the first quarter and played limited minutes from there.
The Nuggets and Lakers meet again on Wednesday night in Ontario, California.