The Denver Nuggets were without Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler when the Los Angeles Lakers came to visit tonight. With a sold out crowd ready to cheer on Nuggets legend Fat Lever as his #12 was immortalized in the rafters, Denver wouldn’t disappoint and outlasted the sub .500 Lakers. Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles had big nights for the Nuggets, which was enough to top the effort of Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram. Nuggets get the win 115-100
The Lakers got the first two baskets of the game but the Nuggets got some early production out of their youth with back to back threes from Murray and Harris. Despite missing their two best players, the Nuggets came out with fire and used their energy to get a small lead early on. Murray was hitting his open shots which was a good sign for Denver. Jamal’s hot shooting and the Lakers cold shooting (thunderous Brook Lopez dunk aside) helped the Nuggets get to a double digit lead with just over five minutes to go in the quarter. Murray kept making shots but Denver’s defense was marginal and that let LA stay in it. Lyles gave Denver some solid minutes off the bench and that gave them the lead after one quarter, 34-29.
Randle was giving the Nuggets bench everything they could handle early in the second quarter. Meanwhile Denver’s bench unit was looking a bit disorganized. Lyles was trying to counter what Randle was doing and while he was able to get buckets on offense, Randle was eating him alive on the other end. Still, Denver was able to keep in front of the Lakers with some timely shooting. Both teams tightened up their defense as the quarter progressed and halfway through had combined for just 18 points. The Lakers looked like they were about to come all the way back and take the lead but before they could Will Barton denied them at the rim with a big rejection. It wouldn’t last though as just one possession later the Lakers got ahead 43-42. Despite another huge block from Barton, the Lakers were the only team making shots and at the three minute mark their lead was up to six. Coach Malone took a timeout which let the Nuggets get their bearings and go on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 53. The Lakers would wind up outscoring the Nuggets 30-21 in the second quarter when it was all said and done and that gave them a four point lead at half.
Catch and shoot 3 for Trey Lyles over Randle. pic.twitter.com/7EtfN58934— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 3, 2017
The Lakers got the jump out of the gate in the second half to get their lead up to 8 but Murray came back with a three to slow their roll. Unfortunately Lopez responded with a three of his own forcing coach Malone to take a timeout. The Nuggets came out of the timeout and got a big boost in momentum from Gary Harris who delivered a 360 layup followed by a pair of baskets from Kenneth Faried an just like that they trailed by only two. Both offenses started to get sloppy, there was even a Mason Plumlee iso from the perimeter, and the game stayed close at the halfway point of the third. Faried was running the floor and was being rewarded for it. He hit two transition layups in a row which gave the led back to the Nuggets. After that he finished an alley oop from Murray which brought a raucous crowd to their feet. The Lakers bounced back at the end of the quarter though and they led after three, 80-78.
The defensive intensity picked up again to start the fourth quarter but as had been the case all night, the Nuggets were getting hurt by the Lakers on the offensive glass. With just under nine minutes to go LA was starting to get some separation. After a pair of Randle free throws they had their lead up to seven. Will Barton finally got a three to go down at about the 7:30 mark which brought the Nuggets within three but the Lakers responded. The Nuggets kept right within striking range as the game came down the stretch, getting contributions from everyone. The teams went back and forth with Denver always just not quite able to get the lead back. Barton got a layup at the five minute mark which finally tied it for Denver at 98 an then followed it up with another to finally get the lead back for the Nuggets. Their defense tightened up, Murray came back in and started making plays and Denver pulled away in the closing minutes.
Best Matchup: Jamal Murray vs Lonzo Ball
Murray seemed to be making a point of it early on to be aggressive and when he knocked down his first to open 3s it seemed like there would be a good chance of him having a big night. Lonzo wasn’t as hot to start the game but he was finding ways to be effective as he usually does, scoring some, assisting some and rebounding some. Murray kept the pressure on throughout the night and despite one bonehead turnover trying to make a flashy pass, he did a good job distributing as well. Then, with the game coming down to the wire it was Murray who slammed the door shut on the Lakers and ensured a Nuggets win.
Main thing I noticed: Nuggets need to contain the glass
Lyles gave Denver some nice minutes off the bench and Faried had some big moments but neither those guys, nor Plumlee were able to keep the Lakers off the glass, particularly the offensive glass. A lot is made about losing Jokic’s scoring and facilitating (as it should be) but what shouldn’t be undersold is how effective he is on the glass. Without Jokic the Nuggets are going to have to find someone who can dominate the glass. Plumlee and Faried should be prime candidates to do that but tonight it wasn’t the case and that hurt Denver.
Closing thought: Congrats to Fat Lever
No matter the result, the best part about tonight was not the actual game itself but the festivities at half time. The Nuggets retired Fat Lever’s jersey tonight and as Alex English said, it was long overdue. Lever was a key part of the 1980s Nuggets squad that is arguably the most successful team in franchise history. Lever’s individual accolades, particularly his standing on the all time triple double list (8th) merit retiring his jersey alone. Denver had a nice ceremony at halftime and it was great to see #12 go up in the rafters.