It’s not deja vu, it’s NBA preseason. The Denver Nuggets took on the Los Angeles Lakers for the second time in three days, this time at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, LeBron James first game in the arena wearing a Laker uniform no less. After beating L.A. in San Diego the Nuggets found the same result in Los Angeles, though they got there in a much different way. Denver was without their starting back court of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris and the Lakers took advantage. James and the Lakers starters played well against Denver but the Nuggets bench proved to be the difference makers in the game. Mason Plumlee broke out with a big fourth quarter and after James and company had retired to the bench, the Nuggets reserves put on a show to claim another victory.

The Nuggets opened with their bench back court of Monte Morris and Torrey Craig along with the usual starters in the front court. The Lakers oddly didn’t work the ball to LeBron right away and found a lot of iron from their other players. The Nuggets meanwhile ran the offense through Jokic but didn’t take good care of the basketball. Early on there was certainly a preseason feel to the game, lots of bricks, loose balls and turnovers. It wasn’t pretty, but the Nuggets played hard, fought for the loose balls and rebounds to eventually earn a small advantage. Out of a timeout the Lakers smartly started to focus their offense on LeBron and went on a quick 8-0 run forcing coach Michael Malone to take a timeout of his own. The Nuggets fought back through their big men, routinely going to Jokic and Millsap who either knocked down the shot or drew a foul. It wasn’t until under four minutes before Malone went to the bench which was probably a good thing because they struggled to get a bucket. The backups found their groove as the quarter came to a close though, highlighted by a solid alley oop from Morris to Plumlee and a circus and-one opportunity from Plumlee as well (he would convert). The Lakers responded with a 4-0 run to close the quarter and they would lead 33-26 after one.

Trey Lyles opened up the second quarter with a runner in the lane and coach Malone opened the second quarter deep in his bench with Donald Sloan making an appearance. The play was once again sloppy and there was long stretches of no one making a bucket. Lyles stayed aggressive, drawing a foul and converting two free throws which were the first points scored by either team in over a minute and a half. Throughout the quarter the Nuggets struggled with turnovers but the Lakers didn’t make them pay because they went ice cold from the floor. Nearly halfway through the quarter and Sloan’s four points were the most by any player in the second. Kuzma got the crowd up after a dunk and McGee continued to get to the free throw line to provide the Lakers with just a smidgen of offense of their own. Malone brought Jokic back in and he went to work down low but on a couple plays it looked like Morris missed Jokic when he was open. Once with Joker unguarded under the basket, and one with Jokic open after he faded to the top of the three point line. LeBron stepped back in for L.A. to spark life in their offense and stretch the Laker lead to double digits. The Nuggets fought back by pushing the pace, Morris had a couple of buckets and Craig had a nice alley-oop finish of his own. Still, L.A. moved the ball well and were up by fourteen until the Nuggets executed an excellent full court play to get a Will Barton three at the buzzer. After 2 it was Lakers 59, Nuggets 48.

McGee opened the second half with an easy alley-oop finish. The Lakers were definitely getting good Javale tonight. He was impacting both sides of the court and the Lakers pushed the pace. They opened the half on a 6-0 run. The Nuggets continued to run their offense through Jokic who had his full arsenal on display with a three, a pair of gorgeous assists and a soft lay up on a fast break. Jokic even had a nice steal when the Lakers tried to pull his own move against him with McGee in high post trying to hit a cutter down the middle of the lane. The Nuggets were playing good team ball and solid defense as they trimmed into the Lakers lead, getting it down to 7 with about five minutes to go in the quarter. Denver’s bench big men, Lyles and Plumlee, led the charge as the Nuggets continued to climb back into the game with the quarter drawing to a close. Denver got as close as three before a string of fouls stopped their run. Plumlee got another bucket down low, missed another free throw and the Lakers got baskets from Kentavious Caldwell -Pope and Ivica Zubac to keep L.A. ahead after three.

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The Nuggets bench players opened up the fourth hot, getting some easy baskets and breaking out an 8-0 run to take the lead. They pushed the pace to which Plumlee was generally the benefit, once again finishing yet another alley-oop. However on the Lakers side, Zubac was giving Denver problems with his soft touch in the lane. By the time the quarter was halfway over, Plumlee had eight points in the fourth (twenty-three overall) and the Nuggets had a slim lead. In the back half of the fourth quarter coach Malone went with his full bench, giving time to reserve bigs Thomas Welsh and Tyler Lydon. Without dominant paint force Plumlee the Nuggets offense stalled outside of some Malik Beasley free throws. The Lakers couldn’t do much on their end either but a pair of buckets just before the four minute mark got them the lead back 101-99. Denver responded with a clutch three pointer from Beasley before John Berry II hit a three of his own to respond but after an offensive rebound Beasley was right back with another three. After a Denver steal they pushed the pace and ended the break with what else, another Beasley three. Sloan followed up with a three of his own and the Nuggets pulled away in the closing moments to get their second straight victory against the Lakers after L.A. failed to get a shot off in the closing seconds.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Javale McGee

McGee had a McGee moment early on when he passed a ball to no one, but he was effective down low tonight. The thing that McGee has always had going for him is that ridiculous length to go with ridiculous height. If he’s anywhere within 5 feet of the basket its practically a standing finger roll. He used his size to get buckets against Jokic in the paint and to bother the Nuggets when he was on defense. To counter Jokic was aggressive himself. For the second game in a row Joker has been able to get to the free throw line with regularity which helped him in the first half and in the second half he was in full Jokic ball mode, guiding Denver’s offense to good look after good look. He closed out the game with 20-6-4 in just twenty-three minutes. It appear Joker is ready to hit this season full speed ahead.

Main thing I noticed: the Nuggets did well but had no gas

Denver played the game from behind pretty much throughout and they certainly struggled when LeBron James was on the court, but I didn’t feel like they were playing bad altogether. There were certainly some rough stretches where the game got sloppy but there were also some beautiful possessions where the Nuggets had great ball movement. The starters hit a bunch of iron which looked like tired legs. I wouldn’t read into it too much though. Denver is just getting back into the groove of playing actual games and they’ve also been on the road for over a week while at training camp. On top of that, instead of regular preseason games, they’ve got national TV over-hyped to the max preseason games. All things considered I think the team looked good tonight and you have to love the way key bench players like Plumlee and Beasley came out tonight and carried the team to a win.

Closing thought: Donald Sloan made the most of his opportunity

Donald Sloan will not be making the Nuggets roster but with Harris and Murray out the Nuggets needed another guard so Sloan got his opportunity. There wasn’t anything spectacular about his game but he was consistent in his effort to get into the lane and force the issue. He was a little to careless with the ball which is likely a big reason why he’s struggled to find a spot on an NBA roster but he showed he’s got chops when he hit a clutch three at the end of the fourth. He reminded me a little bit of Ty Lawson with his small but stocky frame and quickness to the basket. Not sure if Sloan will catch on in the NBA but he showed tonight that he can play solid minutes at the point guard position, which is saying a lot.