The Denver Nuggets are staring one of the longest road trips (both in terms of games and miles) of the season in the face but before that they had none other than LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in town for one final home game. LA couldn’t live up to the hype as Denver methodically out-worked them on the glass and in the post to build an early advantage and never look back. Despite some strong play from L.A. couldn’t live up to the hype and despite some strong play from James and Kyle Kuzma, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic were the best pair of bigs on the court tonight and they powered Denver to a surprisingly easy win, 117-85.
The Nuggets came out with energy early, and although they weren’t getting all their shots to go down, there was definitely a bounce in their step. Juancho Hernangomez in particular was impressive early on, attacking the rim for the first basket of the game and even adding a poster jam on Javale McGee. The strong start led to an early 15-9 lead for the Nuggets which forced Luke Walton to take a timeout.
Out of the timeout the Lakers responded with an 8-2 run to tie the game. Denver just wasn’t hitting their shots and the offense stalled into some poor looks for Millsap on more than one occasion. Jokic also was being aggressive but not necessarily on good looks. He kept settling for trying to sink mid-range jumpers over Tyson Chandler. Fortunately for Denver, the Lakers were struggling with turnovers and free throws which kept the Nuggets in front despite LeBron having an outstanding first quarter. Like clockwork, the Nuggets bench checked in and swung the momentum in their favor and pushed the lead up to seven but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope buried a buzzer beating three to trim the Nuggets lead to four after one.
Jamal Murray opened the second quarter red hot with three straight buckets to extend the Denver lead. Brandon Ingram responded for L.A.’s side and McGee slowed down the Nuggets attack with some excellent rim protection. The Nuggets bench weathered the storm to maintain their lead but couldn’t extend it. The Lakers made their move first and brought back in the starters right around the midway point of the quarter.
Coach Malone responded quickly and Jokic and Millsap checked back in shortly thereafter. Millsap got a pair of buckets right away to push the Nuggets ahead by double digits. Kuzma just simply wasn’t strong enough to cover Millsap in the post. Still, the Lakers pushed back through LeBron and created some turnovers which led to some easy transition buckets. L.A. got it all the way back to within three before Juancho pulled off a four point play and then shortly thereafter Millsap converted an and-1 and then denied Ingram at the rim. Murray missed the shot at the buzzer but all in all a good first half for the Nuggets who led 58-50.
After exiting the second quarter with a tweaked ankle and heading back to the locker room, Lonzo Ball was on the court to start the second half. Jokic continued his aggressive shooting from the first half and knocked down two deep threes right out of the gate. The Lakers turned up the aggression on defense which earned them some turnovers but they also committed several fouls.
Millsap continued to take advantage of his matchup, and the Nuggets were dominating the glass. Denver wasn’t necessarily playing their best basketball but the Lakers made too many mistakes and the Nuggets lead slowly grew to the high teens by the time the benches checked in. Denver’s bench was cold and not taking advantage of some good looks.
The Lakers rallied behind Kuzma and Lance Stephenson to trim the lead to twelve. The fouls were starting to hurt LA though, the Nuggets guards were living at the line as the quarter was drawing to a close. Plumlee had an excellent tip-in right before the buzzer and that pushed the Nuggets ahead by eighteen points.
The bench was ready to go when the final quarter opened. Lyles hit a three, Beasley hit a tough mid range shot and Morris had a beautiful spin move on Ingram to get an easy layup. L.A. pushed back with some points through Lebron and Kuzma, however the Nuggets were finding their range from distance so for each two the Lakers got, Denver got a three.
The Nuggets lead kept growing and by the time the game was in the final 8 minutes they were up by twenty-six. Luke Walton called a timeout and put in Ivica Zubac signaling the Lakers acceptance of their fate. As the game went towards the last half of the quarter both teams emptied their benches. Tyler Lydon made a nice dunk to give the subs some energy but you could tell each side was going through the motions. Most possessions boiled down to lazy jumpers. Devaughn Akoon-Purcell showed off his playmaking by running the break for an alley-oop to Beasley (who had an outstanding night off the bench). and that pretty much was the icing on the cake. Caldwell-Pope, perhaps fueled by the pettiness these two teams love to have with one another, clanged a shot off the rim at the buzzer and the Nuggets win 117-85.
Best matchup: Paul Millsap vs. Kyle Kuzma
Paul Millsap is a large man with robust shoulders, and he used that fact to his advantage against the skinnier Kuzma. Millsap had no trouble establishing deep position in the post for easy baskets. He also had no problem out muscling any Lakers who attempted to box him out. He muscled his way to twenty points and eleven rebounds...at the end of the third quarter (his services were not required in the fourth).
When Millsap was out and Kuzma was in though it was the Lakers who had the advantage. Kuzma typically stuck to the perimeter when faced with the option of banging down low with The Anchorman but when facing Lyles he worked in the post himself and pretty much carried L.A. from the late third quarter through the early fourth. If you could draw it up for Denver though, dominating Kuzma with their starters while letting him get his against the bench isn’t a bad way to go.
Key thing I noticed: Nuggets dominated the glass
McGee and Chandler had a decent night, Mcgee in particular gave the Nuggets some trouble at the rim, but neither they nor anyone else could keep Denver off the glass. Some of it was simply bad fundamentals from L.A., on more than one occasion the Nuggets stole an offensive board simply because the Lakers failed to box out, but Denver’s physical presence inside also played a huge factor. There’s a lot of length, speed and athleticism in the Lakers big men, but not a ton of girth. Good to see the Nuggets take advantage of the match up down low, it certainly paid dividends tonight.
Closing thought: that’s what I’m talking about
Man, was I sick of losing to the Lakers. Yes, Denver beat them in the preseason but come on, those games don’t count. After watching the Lakers treat their last game against the Nuggets last season like a playoff game and then following that up with a Lance Stephenson powered victory this season, well, it was time for some payback. Nothing is sweeter in the regular season than having the Lakers come into your building, seeing the yellow jerseys throughout the stands and then effectively taking them to the woodshed so all those yellow jerseys rush for the exits by the end of the third quarter. Nuggets carry the momentum in a big way as they head into their road trip with a four game winning streak. This team is good, and tonight, they were light years ahead of L.A.