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Preview: Nuggets look to continue dominance of Lakers

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With two wins over the Lakers this season, the Nuggets look to make it three, and take another step towards the postseason with a road win in California.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets are fresh off a nice weekend of winning, picking up victories over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday and the Sacramento Kings on Sunday to keep pace with the other Western Conference playoff teams.

Now they travel to California for a must-win game — every game is a must-win at this point — against the surprisingly resilient team that has been one of the best teams in the league in the new year.

The game has a lot of weight behind it, thanks to a lot of sensitive souls on the Lakers sideline. Lakers coach Luke Walton, a former University of Arizona frat bro that had a couple cups of coffee in the NBA, was caught on camera cursing out Nuggets point guard at the end of their most recent game. It appeared that Walton and several members of the Lakers were upset by Murray’s decision to lick his fingers after cooking Brook Lopez for a clutch basket.

It doesn’t matter what Walton and the YankeesCowboysBlueDevils Lakers fans think of the Nuggets — they have to go out and get a win if they want to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. It’s important for them to make the postseason and take the next step in their development.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (37-30, 11-20 away) vs Los Angeles Lakers (30-36, 17-15 home)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, The Republic of California

How to watch/listen: NBATV, Altitude and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Lineups

Position
Nuggets
Lakers
Edge
PG
Jamal Murray
Lonzo Ball
Nuggets
SG
Gary Harris
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Nuggets
SF
Wilson Chandler
Kyle Kuzma
Nuggets
PF
Paul Millsap
Julius Randle
Nuggets
C
Nikola Jokic
Brook Lopez
Nuggets
Bench
Devin Harris, Malik Beasley, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Richard Jefferson, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee
Isaiah Thomas, Alex Caruso, Travis Wear, Ivica Zubac
Nuggets

Injuries: Tyler Lydon (out - knee); Brandon Ingram (out - groin)

Three things to know

The Lakers aren’t really bad this year.

Gone are the incentives to be a bottom-three team in the league so they can keep their draft pick. They’re sending their pick to the Philadelphia 76ers this year, while getting a first round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers. So they decided to not completely suck, and things have been better lately.

Lonzo Ball doesn’t look like he just jumped off a tilt-a-whirl when he tries to shoot a 3-pointer, Brandon Ingram was playing well before getting injured, and Julius Randle showed NBA teams why the Lakers are so eager to get rid of him by getting into the best shape of his life, leading the team in points and rebounds, and developing into the stud another team is going to enjoy as Magic Johnson chases LeBron James and Paul George in free agency.

Jamal Murray likes playing the Lakers. If there’s any young player that has Mamba Mentality, it’s Murray. He averages 16.8 points per game against the Lakers - he only averages more against Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and New Orleans. What do three of those teams have in common? They passed on Murray in the draft, and the Bucks, well, the Nuggets just rack up points against them.

Whether he’s clowning Lonzo Ball, crossing Brook Lopez into retirement, or trying to break the rim on a dunk, you can tell Murray gets up for games against the Lakers. He’s going to need to excel tonight, and if he has a good game, you can bet the Nuggets take home another victory.

Don’t let the Lakers rebound. The Lakers have capable rebounders in Randle and Ball, but with the loss of Nance Jr. and Ingram, they could struggle in that aspect. If the Nuggets can force the Lakers to miss shots, grab the rebound, and find mismatches in transition, their offense is going to be too much for the Lakers to keep up with. They need to see Brook Lopez finish with below five rebounds, and limit Randle’s opportunities.

If the Nuggets can put back some of their misses, they could coast to a win. If not, look for things to be close — again.

Prediction

The Nuggets are going to win this game. They’re the more talented team, and they’re not going to lose to the most overrated rookie in his class (Kyle Kuzma) and some lanky point guard that looks like a skinny, SoCal version of Drake.

I predict that loads of Lakers fans will bring up the fact that the franchise has won 16 championships, and the Nuggets have won zero. But be of good courage - the Nuggets have a brighter future, a general manager that knows how to not tamper with free agents, and a culture that promotes winning and development. Plus, no LaVar Ball.

The future is bright for Denver, no matter the outcome of this game (which will be a Nuggets win). If the Nuggets lose, you’ll see me off the grid for, oh, three weeks or so. I’ll be counting the number of banners that hang in Staples Center as punishment.