After a rocky start to the season the Denver Nuggets are on a roll. Now winners of six of their last seven games, including putting an end to the Utah Jazz winning streak, the Nuggets face a team that they are all too familiar with: the Los Angeles Lakers. The last time these two teams met the Lakers were putting the finishing touches on a gentlemen’s sweep of Denver in the Western Conference Finals. Tonight the Nuggets are sure to be looking for some payback.

The Lakers did not have a rocky start to the season. It’s been more or less business as usual for the team that most regard as favorites to repeat as champions. LeBron James remains the best player on earth and Anthony Davis continues to be the world’s best sidekick. Though some of the players that gave the Nuggets trouble in the WCF are now gone (Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard), the Lakers retooled their depth by adding pieces like Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol. Without a doubt, this is the most formidable opponent the Nuggets face this season.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (12-8) at Los Angeles Lakers (16-6)

When: 8:00 PM MST

Where: Staples Center. Los Angeles, CA.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Claim you are World Wide Wob here to finally make good as Jeanie Buss’ love interest. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Monte Morris Malcolm Brogdon Pacers
SG Jamal Murray Justin Holiday Nuggets
SF Will Barton Doug McDermott Even
PF Michael Porter Jr. Domantas Sabonis Pacers
C Nikola Jokic Myles turner Nuggets
Bench P.J. Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, Isaiah Hartenstein, Vlatko Cancar T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner, Aaron Holiday Pacers

Player availability: Gary Harris – out (adductor), P.J. Dozier – out (hamstring), Greg Whittington – out (knee); Anthony Davis – probable (quad), LeBron James – probable (ankle), Jared Dudley – out (calf), Kostas Antetokounmpo – out (knee)

Three things to watch for

Key matchup: Will Barton vs LeBron James

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The Nuggets achilles heel for the past few seasons (really ever since Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari left) is big wings. There is no player who highlights this weakness more than LeBron James. Will Barton seems to be finding his legs but still is rather inconsistent. He’s coming off a nice game against Utah and should be well rested since Denver’s game against the Detroit Pistons was postponed. No matter how rested and how consistent he is though he gives up three inches and seventy (seventy!) pounds to LeBron. There’s no doubt Thrill has his work cut out for him. His best bet might be to try and get LeBron into foul trouble, though getting fouls called on LeBron in the Staples Center is an especially tall task.

Key thing to watch for: Michael Porter Jr minutes…and maybe even Bol Bol

The Nuggets do have two ridiculously long wings who can float between the two forward spots and even play some small ball center: Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. The problem of course is neither instills a lot of confidence on the defensive end. MPJ is learning to defend at the NBA level…extremely slowly. There are moments of progress to be sure, but also moments of complete ineptitude like we saw against the San Antonio Spurs. Bol meanwhile continues to be very raw and is still learning how to play at the NBA level. Still, these guys are 6’10” and 7’2” respectively with quite a bit of athleticism to go with it. Physically speaking they are Denver’s best bet against LeBron or Anthony Davis, but with the talent level those two guys bring it’s a risky proposition to say the least to ask either MPJ or Bol to defend one of the Lakers stars. Tonight will be a true test in just how much of a chance coach Michael Malone is willing to take on either player.

Opening thought: play with pride

The Nuggets should be pissed off about losing to the Lakers in the playoffs. They should recognize that is the mountain they still have to climb and if they want to be taken seriously as title contenders they need to show they can compete with this team on any given night. A loss in Staples Center will surprise no one. We know this game will not be the most even in terms of refereeing. Nonetheless, the Nuggets need to show up tonight and do everything they can to win. It’s time to prove last year was not a fluke, the beginning of this season was, and show the world on national TV that the Nuggets are for real.