The Denver Nuggets came out flat against the Los Angeles Lakers and never recovered, losing 127-109. The first half ejections of both Nikola Jokic and coach Michael Malone on the same play, along with Paul Millsap’s wrist sprain made their early deficit nearly impossible to overcome, but Denver’s lackadaisical play and invisible defense for most of the game made it worse.
Kyle Kuzma hit an open 3-pointer to begin the scoring, while the Nuggets countered with some hard drives to the hoop rather than their normal passing attack early. A nice sling pass from Jokic to Wilson Chandler for a three and a Millsap feed to Gary Harris for a dunk gave Denver a slim 11-8 lead with four minutes gone.
Brook Lopez and Brandon Ingram both hit threes and Jokic picked up his second foul at 6:05, forcing him to the bench. The starters had a competitive quarter but Millsap then had to come out with a wrist issue from getting fouled with the Lakers up 21-20. The Lakers just kept hitting threes, with 5 in the quarter, and they attacked the paint while Denver's bench players struggled to score without either of Denver's two best players on the floor. The Lakers had a 12-3 run before Will Barton finally hit a drive. Denver shot only 36% but a Corey Brewer miss at the buzzer let the Nuggets escape down just 6, 32-26.
Kenneth Faried started off with an 8-foot push shot but Denver's perimeter defenders stopped no one as LA ran their lead back to 12. Denver had multiple terrible turnovers and a blown reverse dunk from Faried as the Nuggets looked comletely out of sorts despite having Jokic back in the game. Lazy passes and indifferent effort helped the Lakers to another 14-2 run, off of 7 turnovers in the first four minutes of the quarter.
The Lakers were up 50-30 on the back of 17 points to that point from Julius Randle, who just ran to the rim through the ridiculously soft efforts of the Nuggets. Then Nikola Jokic got a technical for yelling about a non-call and then got thrown out of the game, along with Michael Malone who came all the way out on the court to argue during play.
Woh!— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) November 20, 2017
Double techs for both Michael Malone and Nikola Jokic. Both have been ejected from the game
Jamal Murray then got a technical on the next play and Denver looked for a way back into the game down 22 points with 5 minutes left in the second quarter. Gary Harris hit a 30 footer but Denver had no penetration or ball rotation. Millsap left the game again with that wrist issue and there was no competitive reason to keep him in. By halftime Denver had allowed the Lakers their season-high in first-half points and trailed 70-48.
The Nuggets started off the third quarter without Jokic or Millsap, but a quick pair of threes from Wilson Chandler helped. Denver found some energy out of the half but still struggled with defense. Lopez's three and a steal for a Caldwell-Pope layup made it 83-63 Lakers. The Nuggets kept getting stuffed inside while the Lakers took care of business, and without Jokic or Millsap to key the offense it was all easily-defended iso play.
Denver tried the small-ball perimeter game with Trey Lyles and Juancho Hernangomez off the bench with just over three minutes to go and Lyles immediately made a three, followed by Mudiay. Juancho's three with a minute to go helped, and Mudiay's free throw game brought the Nuggets back to with 15 at 99-84 after three.
The Lakers pushed the lead back to 20 in the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter though, and were +34 in the paint to that point. Murray kept driving even though his outside shot was abysmal and made a great pass to Juancho as well as an effort bucket:
The Nuggets never closed that gap however, and the Lakers coasted to an embarrassingly easy victory.
- The road version of the Nuggets is soft. They let teams push them around, toss careless passes like it's some charity event and defend like they'd rather be out at the club and don't want to have to shower first. No effort makes for some terrible stretches of basketball that can't be overcome without some actual effort. Denver found some effort by the end but couldn’t make up the necessary ground without better play.
I don't care how talented the Nuggets are, soft teams don't win anything. I would rather they played their asses off and lost because they were just untalented. These sorts of games happen to young teams, which Denver is. Hopefully that's the only DNA connected to these issues, because being a pushover whenever another team decides to get up in your face and backing down gets you no respect in this league.
Denver can score when the shots are falling, but until they stand up for themselves they won't get that respect.