Tonight’s game had all the makings of a great one. A chance for the Nuggets to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the league with the top-seeded Lakers in town. The debut of the new black Skyline jerseys, Park Hill night.
For the first minute of the game it looked like Denver was going to come out all-in on the effort, jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead and getting the Pepsi Center crowd all riled up. But then LeBron James propelled the Lakers on a nice run by scoring 11 points in the first quarter. The Lakers never really looked back in the first half as they held a 60-49 lead at intermission.
Aside from not being able to guard LeBron during that first stretch, the Nuggets just simply looked intimidated by the Lakers’ length and physicality. Anything in the paint went up with hesitation and the Nuggets were outworked time and time again on the glass, practically gifting the Lakers more points. On a night where the two teams were pretty even in terms of three-point shooting, losing the battle on the glass
It’s not like Denver could do much to stop Anthony Davis either. After a hot start to the second half and even gaining the lead for a very short time, AD took over. He and Rajon Rondo have great chemistry as they connected for a few easy alley-oops and his height allowed him to hit some big shots over the defense.
Denver made a nice run in the fourth quarter spurred by Jamal Murray and a marginally rejuvenated Nikola Jokic but it wasn’t enough. The Nuggets cut the lead to one at 97-96 with the help of some missed Laker free throws; in the end, there were no clear answers to stopping LeBron or AD who each put up 25. Final score: Lakers 105, Nuggets 96.
- Paul Millsap absolutely balled out for the Nuggets. He put up 21 and 8 and really set the tone early with his workman-like effort for even as the team struggled. Millsap did a great job of muscling his way to a lot of baskets to keep Denver within striking distance the whole night. Best Nugget on the court by far.
- Nikola Jokic. Whew. He was 100% M.I.A. in the first half and his reluctance to even shoot the basketball is officially alarming. Joker had five turnovers tonight and at least half of them were from Laker defenders waiting to jump the pass from him. To be fair, he became slightly more aggressive on offense in the second half which helped open things up but for the most part his passiveness hurt the Nuggets.
- The Lakers have three 7-footers but you can’t, can’t, can’t get out-rebounded 56-35 and expect to win a basketball game. L.A. got so many second chance opportunities and fast break points because of this and it really swung the game in the first half.
- Denver’s weakside defense left a lot to be desired. The Lakers practically ran up the score just by attacking the paint, drawing the help and lobbing it to Dwight Howard or AD. A lot for Denver to improve on after tonight.