After a couple of days off, the Denver Nuggets (26-13) are back in action tonight with the Los Angeles Lakers (19-21) coming to town for the fourth and final matchup between these two teams in the regular season. Despite the Lakers’ struggles over the last couple of seasons, they’ve had the Nuggets’ number for the most part, as they’re 2-1 in three games this year and 5-4 over the last three seasons since their win in the bubble. 

The Nuggets are tied for the lead at the top of the Western Conference, and they are one of the hottest teams in the NBA with an 8-2 record over their last 10 games. They’re in the meatiest part of their schedule right now, and they’re getting a bit of a break with this one-off game. They played seven games in 11 days with three back-to-backs in that mix, and tonight starts a stretch of 10 games where they will never have more than one day off between games.

For the Lakers, they have been scratching and clawing for every win they could get this year. Since starting the season a paltry 2-10, they’re 17-11 and 6-4 over their last 10. They’ve also played without Anthony Davis for 15 of their 40 games this year, and that isn’t counting the two games he left early with injuries, including the team’s 18-point win over the Nuggets back in mid December.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (26-13, 16-3 home) vs Los Angeles Lakers (19-21, 9-13 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Expected Starting Lineups:

LAL: PG Dennis Schroder, SG Patrick Beverley, SF LeBron James, PF Juan Toscano-Anderson, C Thomas Bryant

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Collin Gillespie (leg), Jeff Green (hand/finger), Peyton Watson (groin), LeBron James (ankle), Russell Westbrook (foot), Troy Brown (quad), Anthony Davis (foot), Austin Reaves (hamstring), Lonnie Walker (knee)

Three Things to Watch

Keep a Lid on Russ

With the amount of injuries and lineup adjustments the Lakers have made throughout this season, it’s tough to pinpoint just one thing that has been consistent for them in their matchups with Denver. However, Russell Westbrook is one of those things. He missed the team’s loss in late October, and, in their two wins, he’s averaging 16.5 points, 10 assists and 9.5 rebounds per game. Denver has struggled to contain fast and explosive guards, but they can’t let Russ get going in this one.

Aaron Gordon vs LeBron James

At 38 years old, LeBron James remains the most incredible physical specimen I’ve seen in my lifetime. Other guys may get there depending on how they age, but no one has ever been doing the things he’s doing at his age. He’s averaging 29.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor. In the team’s two wins over Denver, he’s averaging 28 points compared to just 19 points in their loss. Of late, he’s played in four games during his team’s five-game winning streak, and he’s averaging 38 points per game over those four games. The Gordon vs James battle will be big to watch.

Attack the Basket

With no Davis in the lineup, the Lakers are an extremely small team, and they’re very thin in the frontcourt. Behind fifth-year center Thomas Bryant, the team doesn’t have another true center that’s getting regular minutes for them. Coming off of the bench to relieve him would likely be Wenyen Gabriel or maybe even James in some small-ball center lineups. If they can get Bryant into foul trouble early in the game, Denver could really get the snowball rolling down the hill in a hurry.