Denver was able to give their starters rest, with no player getting more than 27 minutes. Malone went with his bench to close out the game against LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they nearly pulled off the upset, with Kyle Kuzma having to knock down a 3-pointer just before time expired to win the game.
James had 29 points to lead all scorers, with PJ Dozier leading the Nuggets in scoring with 18 points. The Nuggets had seven players finish with double-digit points, with Michael Porter Jr. going 6-6 for 15 points.
The Lakers started Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma, going with a bigger lineup that featured LeBron James as the starting point guard. They went inside for their first couple of possessions, running the offense through Anthony Davis. The Nuggets also made a point of going to the rim through their bigs, with Paul Millsap attacking JaVale McGee to get a basket and some free throws. MPJ knocked in his first two 3-point attempts, getting into a rhythm early. He was able to hook up with Jokic for a nice little give and go, beating Kuzma backdoor for a reverse layup, his eighth point on just three attempts.
After a timeout, MPJ was able to grab a pass from James, lead the break, and knock down a PUJIT, continuing his hot start. The Nuggets were able to double team Davis after James sat, with their defense starting to round into playoff form. Dion Waiters went on two possession 5-0 run, and that’s not something that Coach Malone was happy to see. Despite the timeout and insertion of some bench players, the Lakers were able to continue on a run. Mason Plumlee committed two turnovers and got posterized by Davis in his first four minutes, helping the Lakers continue on their run to close out the quarter and seize a 31-25 lead.
Dozier was able to knock in a 3-pointer, feeling good after having blocked Anthony Davis earlier in the first quarter. The Nuggets went to a zone defense, taking advantage of Bol’s length while trying to limit his inexperience with James and Dwight Howard on the floor. Bol made a great pass to Plumlee, dribbling the ball down the court and shooting a laser through traffic, with Plumlee getting fouled on his shot attempt. The Lakers stopped messing around with the zone, as James bulldozed Monte Morris to the rim for a layup and Markieff Morris knocking in a triple.
Millsap and MPJ checked back in the game after five minutes of game time, with the veteran forward making an immediate impact by grabbing an offensive rebound, dribbling the ball out to the 3-point line, and knocking in a jumper. Porter Jr. and Jokic hit back-to-back jumpers, helping give the Nuggets a four-point lead. James powered a 6-0 Lakers run to retake the lead, capitalizing on a turnover by Murray. A turnover by Porter Jr. lead to a 3-pointer from James in the corner over Jokic. A lazy boxout by Jokic let Anthony Davis soar in for a huge putback dunk to end the first half, with the Nuggets down by five, 65-59. MPJ lead the team in points in the first half, with 13 points on just five shots.
Murray scored on two consecutive possessions, knocking in a jumper and then taking Caruso into the paint for a layup off a post-up. Torrey Craig made a nice play on the defensive glass, stealing a rebound from McGee and getting a nice layup as the Lakers had already vacated the zone. Murray took advantage of another post-up, spinning for a fadeaway 21-foot jumper to hit double digits in points. Both teams started getting scrappy, with the Nuggets doing a nice job collapsing in for rebounds while executing neat plays on offense. Millsap got drilled in the back of the head by LeBron on a block, and the refs didn’t notice Millsap lying on the floor with a knot on his skull.
Murray had a nice spin move on Caruso, getting to the rim and drawing a foul on a dunk attempt, continuing a strong second half by flicking in both his freebies. Bol Bol checked in, and was able to get a block on a layup attempt by Waiters, getting all ball ball to help launch a transition opportunity. Malone emptied his bench, with the starters checking out having cut the Lakers lead to one point. The Lakers were able to go on another 6-0 run, with a turnover off a lazy pass by Bol leading to a breakaway dunk by Kuzma. Denver went on a run of their own after a timeout, tying the game at the end of the third quarter.
Neither team was able to get good offense to start the fourth quarter, just abusing the rim with some solid bricks. The Lakers put back in their leader, LeBron, who took advantage of being guarded by Keita Bates-Diop to get to the rim. Dozier was able to get some separation for Plumlee in the halfcourt, with the big fella finishing with a nice dunk. Bol Bol had a nice play, spearing a defensive rebound and finding Plumlee all the way downcourt for an easy basket.
The Nuggets were able to get some nice looks at the rim, running their offense through their big combo of Bol Bol and Plumlee to draw the Lakers bigs away from the rim. Plumlee made a smart read on a pass by Waiters, then made a beautiful pass to Bol over his head, but was fouled before Bol was able to grab the pass and dunk. James hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game to tie the game, but PJ Dozier answered with a 3-pointer of his own to counter. Malone let the starters rest to finish out the game, but the Nuggets reserves were able to hang with the Lakers starters. Dozier stepped up with the starters on the bench, getting into the paint time after time to get buckets. Morris got swatted by Davis on a layup, but the ball bounced into Bates-Diop’s hands for a 3-pointer to put them up by five with 2:30 left.
Danny Green knocked in a triple after the timeout, with the veteran coming up clutch for his team. Monte Morris answered for Denver, helping attack the Lakers zone. Dozier tried to isolate against Davis, but the Lakers big blocked his fadeaway, snuffing out a chance to stretch the lead to double-digits. The refs missed a push on PJ Dozier, who hit the deck and slid out of bounds to give the Lakers the ball back, giving LeBron a chance to drive into the paint and get to the free throw line after laying the ball in. Morris split a pair of free throws, missing a chance to tie the game. Bol Bol forced LeBron James to miss a 3-pointer, and Dozier was able to get into transition, drawing a foul against Kyle Kuzma to go to the line. Dozier hit the first, but missed the second, giving the Lakers the ball with the score tied and 4.8 seconds left in the game. Kyle Kuzma hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Lakers a 3-point lead with only 0.4 seconds left.