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Preview: Nuggets host Lakers in battle between top two teams in the Western Conference

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Can the Nuggets send LeBron home with an L?

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

The last time LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers set foot in Pepsi Center almost exactly one year ago, the Denver Nuggets beat them so bad that following the game coach Michael Malone gifted us with an all-timer when referring to Laker (and other teams) fans: Take That L on the Way Out (sidenote: read Nick Kosmider’s piece about this quote, it’s great)

Denver won that game 117-185 and the Lakers imploded soon after on their way to missing the playoffs.

But today as these two teams meet in Denver for the first time this season things are completely different. Joining LeBron is Anthony Davis, and together they have led the Lakers to a 17-3 start and the best record in the NBA. At 13-4, the Nuggets sit right behind Los Angeles for the 2nd seed in the Western Conference.

The Lakers have dominated the first quarter of the season on the backs of a cake schedule; Denver will provide one of the few real tests faced in 2019 thus far. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have the best defense in the league but can’t seem to figure things out on offense. Even with clear talent and a sharp record the Nuggets aren’t garnering the national attention they likely deserve. Taking down the mighty Lakers could finally propel them into the title contention category among many pundits.

The Basics

Who: Los Angeles Lakers (17-3) at Denver Nuggets (13-4)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to Watch/listen: Altitude/Altitude Radio

Rival Blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Expected Lineups

Position Nuggets Lakers
Position Nuggets Lakers
PG Jamal Murray Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SG Gary Harris Danny Green
SF Will Barton III LeBron James
PF Paul Millsap Anthony Davis
C Nikola Jokic JaVale McGee
Bench Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, Troy Daniels

Three Things to Watch

Bounce back games. Both the Lakers and Nuggets are coming off of losses that snapped long win streaks (10 and 6 respectively). Denver’s overtime loss to Sacramento on Saturday was u-g-l-y and the Nuggets will hopefully be motivated to rebound from some costly mistakes made at the end of that game. The Lakers fell to Luka Doncic and the Mavericks on Sunday and afterwards Davis said “We don’t want to lose two in a row. Ever.” This is the best team in the NBA right now. The Lakers certainly won’t be rolling over.

Stopping LeBron and AD. The Nuggets have surprised everyone in that as of Monday they had the league’s #1 defense. Collectively this is fantastic, but when you look at the individual matchups tonight a lot of questions arise. How effective will Denver be at scheming against the two Laker superstars? It’s likely Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant who will take on Davis, but what about when the Lakers put AD at center? Will Denver match and go small or will Jokic get that assignment? Compared to LeBron, Will Barton and Torrey Craig are vastly undersized. The Nuggets had some tricks up their sleeves a few weeks ago against James Harden, can they do the same tonight?

The Nuggets offense. While Denver has been impressive on defense, the team is barely scraping by on offense. The Nuggets are 18th in offensive rating and 26th in both 3PA and FTA. They are still not generating efficient shots or getting to the foul line. It will be tough to beat the Lakers, the 5th best defensive team, playing this same way.