Kobe Bryant makes his final swan song to Denver tonight. The final appearance of the aging superstar is the highlight of the game tonight which will feature two teams destined for the NBA draft lottery. The Los Angeles Lakers are fresh off a victory over the Brooklyn Nets but the preceding eight game losing streak is a far more accurate snapshot of the season for LA. Near dead last in the standings with some questionable coaching practices and the potential to lose out on a first round pick, times are tough for the Lakers.

The Nuggets meanwhile are still reeling from the news that Danilo Gallinari has torn lateral ligaments in his ankle which could cause him to miss a month of action, potentially putting his season in jeopardy. Out of the all star break Denver’s play, especially on defense, has fallen off a cliff resulting in only one win and five losses. For the most part, the major difference between the two teams paths has been the Nuggets focus on development of their younger players while Byron Scott and the Lakers have focused on failing miserably at trying to win games (a mindset they seem to have finally gotten away from). Also, while Denver has accumulated a bevy of draft picks, the Lakers are paying for poor personnel decisions from the past and have left their draft cupboard fairly bare.

The Basics:

Who: Los Angeles Lakers (12-49) at Denver Nuggets (23-37)

When: 7PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KRWZ AM 950

Rival blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Los Angeles Lakers Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG D’Angelo Russell Emmanuel Mudiay Even
SG Jordan Clarkson Gary Harris Even
SF Kobe Bryant Jakarr Sampson Lakers
PF Julius Randle Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Roy Hibbert Nikola Jokic Nuggets
Bench Nick Young, Brandon Bass, Marcelo Huertas, Tarik Black, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, Anthony Brown Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Darrell Arthur,D.J. Augustin, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller,Jameer Nelson, Axel Toupane Even

Injured players: Kenneth Faried – questionable (back), Jameer Nelson – probable (wrist), Danilo Gallinari – out (ankle), Wilson Chandler – out (hip), Kobe Bryant – probable (shoulder), Larry Nance Jr – out (knee), Lou Williams – out (hamstring)

Key match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs D'Angelo Russell

The Mudiay-Russell match up looked like a very juicy one at the start of the season but it's fell short of expectations. However, while neither player has performed as well as their fan base had hoped at the beginning of the season, both have performed better as the season has gone on. Russell specifically has been hot as of late with no performance hotter than the 39 points he dropped last night on the Brooklyn Nets. Mudiay has yet to put up a performance of that caliber but with Gallo out and the team looking for players to pick up the scoring load tonight would be the perfect time for a big performance out of the Nuggets young point guard.

Key thing to watch for: Minutes for the bigs

Coach Michael Malone has drawn the ire of many Nuggets fans for relegating big man Jusuf Nurkic to the bench. More alarming perhaps is replacing Gallinari in the starting lineup with newcomer Jakarr Sampson and then playing extended minutes for Sampson in small ball lineups in lieu of either Nurkic or Nikola Jokic. The Lakers don't exactly play a lot of traditional big men outside of Roy Hibbert so this game could go the way of small ball as well. The question is at what point does suiting your lineup for stylistic purposes create such a large talent gap that any benefit you might receive from that line up is lost. The drop off from Sampson (or god help us Mike Miller) to Jokic as a big man is quite significant and injuries have caused Denver's depth to become quite thin. Perhaps at this point the Nuggets would be better off basing their lineup on talent instead of match ups.

Opening thought: This game needs to be a blow out

The Lakers are on a back to back and coming from the west coast. They are also a terrible basketball team right now. There's no excuse for the Nuggets to not win this one going away. However, this team has certainly been guilty of playing down to their competition in the past and they need to avoid that mentality tonight. Russell has shown he is capable of scoring in bunches and Julius Randle can be a handful in the post but the talent on this Lakers team is really lacking. I"m looking for a big night from Mudiay and possibly Gary Harris on the way to a big win for Denver, anything less is inexcusable. Give me the Nuggets, 105-94.

And one extra opening thought: Give Kobe his due

I completely understand the negative feelings surrounding Kobe given his checkered past in Colorado, outside of that though the only reason to hate on the guy is because he has consistently killed the hometown team. Without a doubt, he's one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Five championships as either the #1 or #2 option on a team is incredibly impressive and he's a no brainer first ballot hall of famer. I'll never forget being jealous of Lakers fans in 2008 when Kobe was playing for the US men's national team. For once he was on the team I was rooting for and I can't lie, it was pretty awesome. All that being said, will I cheer for him tonight? Definitely not and neither should the Pepsi Center unless it's during introductions or the game is done.