The Denver Nuggets were missing Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur, but came out with an incredibly balanced attack to demolish the Los Angeles Lakers 129-101. Mason Plumlee had a double-double with 15 and 10, Nikola Jokic put up 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists in just 24 minutes, and Will Barton and Jamal Murray dropped in 22 points apiece.
The Nuggets had 36 assists on the night but the team-high was Gary Harris with 7. It was a dominating performance, as it should have been, with seven players in double-figures. The Lakers had Ivica Zubac and Jordan Clarkson show up, with Ingram getting better as the game went on, but too many players looked checked out for the season on a tanking team. Denver looked like a playoff team beating up on a top-3 lotto team tonight.
The teams started off exchanging buckets, but Jokic looked a little out of sorts offensively next to Plumlee in the starting lineup. After 2 free throws from Gallinari, though, Denver went up 10-7. Gallinari had seven of Denver's first 11 points. The transition no-look 4-to-5 bucket from Plumlee to Jokic was also an early highlight.
The Lakers made 5 of their first 9, though, to keep it close. Plumlee took it coast to coast but missed the layup after getting fouled. Hitting both free throws was a nice touch though, and Denver's length inside created block opportunities and turnovers. A 4-point play opportunity for Clarkson closed the distance back, though as the Nuggets starters couldn't create any separation through the first 7 minutes.
Los Angeles retook the lead at 18-17, but Jokic responded with a pair of interior buckets. Gallinari had a nice drive for more free throws and Barton hit a Rooster-assisted 3. Another pair of buckets from Barton drove the lead up to 10 and then Harris and Plumlee punctuated the quarter with a steal-and-dunk followed by a buzzer block to put Denver up 12 after one, 35-23.
The Nuggets started off the second quarter with a Murray 3, but some lazy passes that turned into 3 quick turnovers and transition dunks killed that momentum. Harris snagged another steal of his own to stop the mini-run by Los Angeles. As the silly mistakes continued, though, Malone was forced to call a timeout as the Lakers closed to within 8. He had to bring Jokic back early in order to re-start Denver's offensive rhythm. Immediately the Nuggets got some improved play and a 6-0 run including dunks by both Murray and Harris. And then OHMYGOD THIS:
Nikola Jokic is into some stuff yo pic.twitter.com/sbvvlYXJM6— Dan Favale (@danfavale) March 14, 2017
Jokic's follow-up steal didn't result in points, but back-to-back threes from Juancho Hernangomez put Denver up big 53-31. Barton remained on a mission, grabbing a steal and getting good finishes around the basket. Denver went on an extended 22-2 run, causing Lakers coach Luke Walton to get a technical and do nearly an entire hockey line shift. Denver's focus on both ends faltered after that ferocious run, but Barton remained on fire. He finished the first half with 19 points and despite some late Lakers bucket Denver closed with a 67-43 halftime lead.
The Nuggets came out of halftime focused, with long jumpers from Jokic, Gallo and Harris that all swished. Another Jokic jumper pushed the lead to 30 at 77-47 as the Lakers looked like they left their hearts in their luggage. The Lakers took a timeout and came out firing and making threes thanks to Jordan Clarkson, but a couple of Plumlee dunks and a Gallo three-point play kept the pressure on and the lead large.
Denver missed some shots and the defensive effort waivered a little to let the Lakers close to within 18 with 3 minutes to go in the third. Jameer Nelson hit a three and made a nice cut for a layup, but Denver kept chucking from distance to end the quarter and wound up leading by 17 as Denver won the quarter with a strong effort from Clarkson.
Gallinari came in immediately to start the 4th and hit a 3, then Murray got a transition dunk off a steal. The Nuggets hit a hundred points with 10 minutes to go. Gallinari had yet another great give-and-go oop effort. Gary Harris was still cutting hard even up 25, and Barton hit his first bucket of the second half as he nailed a three. Murry followed it up with another 3. The game turned into a glorified scrimmage at that point.
Barton had a great block after a terrible steal, Juancho and Hernangomez both hit threes, and even a 20/10 game from Zubac couldn't slow Denver. The best play L.A. could come up with all night was D'Angelo Russell mocking Jamal Murray's arrow celebration after Russell hit a three - with the Lakers down 26. How the mighty have fallen.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Roy Hibbert and Malik Beasley got in with three minutes to go. Murray and Beasley both went for a block on a steal (Murray got it), Beasley plowed down a monster dunk in the final minute, and Denver cruised to that victory, 129-101.
- Jokic is absolutely the tentpole for this franchise. He had 12 points, 6 rebounds and just 2 assists in the first half, but those assists in no way explain his impact on Denver's offense. Without him, the offense quickly devolved into stand-around iso-ball with lazy, turnover-prone passes. Jokic has been turnover-prone himself this year, but his passes are too ambitious rather than not ambitious enough.
Jokic errs on the side of pressuring the defense to over-commit just by trying a pass no one else would (like, say, the blind behind-the-head number to a cutter under the basket who's not actually open at the time of the pass). That pressure creates moments of opportunity throughout the game by forcing defenses to defend all the potential passing lanes and not just the easy ones. That in turn lets the assists flow throughout the rotation. Denver had 15 assists in the first half and every player who took the court in the first 24 minutes had at least 1.
On the downside, this team goes as Jokic goes. On the upside: Jokic can go a long, long way. Whenever Jokic is in the game, the circus is in town - and it’s entertaining as hell.
- The Nuggets played like this game mattered. Denver made plenty of mistakes in the first half but kept their intensity and focus for the vast majority of their minutes. They came out of halftime firing away and playing hard rather than frittering away that big lead as has been their norm.
They faltered at the end of the third and gave up a run, but basketball is a game of runs. They re-set the tone at the start of the 4th and cruised from there. If Denver intends to get that 8th seed in the playoffs, they have to play with this focus.
Let Jokic take you into tomorrow with this. Jokic is life, y'all, and don't forget it.