It was a cathartic performance for the Denver Nuggets in Los Angeles tonight, as they trounced the Lakers 128-104 to extend their winning streak to six games. In a game LeBron James sat out to do a muscle strain in his back, Anthony Davis had 32 points and 11 rebounds by himself, but it didn’t matter as the Nuggets did a great job limiting the supporting cast around him. Paul Millsap led the way with 21 points for the Nuggets, while Gary Harris chipped in an efficient 19 points with five assists and four steals.
The first half was an up-and-down affair for Denver that featured Nikola Jokic scoring a quick 11 points in the first quarter. The rest of Denver’s shooters took awhile to get going, and Jamal Murray never did, but Millsap hit some huge shots to close the first half to keep the Nuggets in front by two.
Jamal Murray with an ELITE scoring move: pic.twitter.com/YATujAb2kp— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) December 23, 2019
The second half was where the Nuggets really turned it on. Millsap continued to get hot, and Will Barton made some important plays on both ends. He led the Nuggets with 13 rebounds tonight, showcasing his versatile skill set and importance to Denver’s starting unit.
Malik Beasley led the scoring off the Nuggets bench with 16 points, hitting 3-of-7 from three-point range and giving the Nuggets bench a big boost after Michael Porter Jr. struggled to make his presence felt in his short stint. Combining Beasley’s performance with Mason Plumlee’s 10 points and five assists, and the Nuggets had a strong bench performance that the Lakers just couldn’t match.
What we said to watch:
LeBron-less Lakers: The most important way to take advantage of the Lakers when one of their stars is injured is to win all of the minutes with the one star off the floor. With Anthony Davis on the floor, the Nuggets maintained a plus-minus of -13. With Davis off the floor the Nuggets maintained a plus minus of -15. They won both sets of minutes, a really impressive feat for a team that generally struggles against the star big man.
Nikola Jokic vs Anthony Davis: Both stars were out in full force during the first half of this game. Anthony Davis put up points on every big he matched up against tonight but mostly took it to Paul Millsap. Davis put up 32 and 11 with four blocks, showcasing his two-way play. Jokic on the other hand put up a respectable stat line of 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists
Denver’s bench: After some initial struggles in the first half, the bench unit featuring either Will Barton or Gary Harris excelled in the minutes without Davis. All bench players finished with 50 points total, compared to the Lakers’ total of 49. When Denver’s starters finally got things together in the third quarter, the bench continued that forward momentum to help close the game.
Closing thought: This game means everything and nothing
The Nuggets proved they could win the minutes they played against Anthony Davis tonight, even when he faced Denver’s bench unit. This is a big deal when thinking about the long term viability of Denver when facing Los Angeles in a playoff series come April or May. Despite that, it also means very little because LeBron James didn’t play. In a playoff series featuring James, he will rarely leave the floor, if at all, and has always given the Nuggets trouble when he’s out there.
It should be celebrated that Denver won in Los Angeles though. LA nightlife is officially defeated.
What comes next:
The Nuggets will take their six-game winning streak on a back-to-back in Phoenix to face Devin Booker and the Suns on Monday night.