Fresh off their first back-to-back losses of the season courtesy of road defeats to the Pacers and Bucks last week, the Lakers suffered their worst loss of the season versus the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 22.
“We gotta go win a game,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said about his team’s effort in the loss. “There is no excuse, we didn’t play good enough to win.”
Of course, Los Angeles was without LeBron James for the 128-104 loss at Staples Center. James hurt himself at the end of the stretch where the Lakers played 12 of 15 games away from Staples Center and missed his first game of the season
Nonetheless, forward Anthony Davis carried the Lakers most of the game. The Brow scored the team’s first points and finished the first half with 15 points and 8 rebounds. However, Davis said with or without LeBron, the team ‘sucks’ defensively.
“We lost our edge defensively, we haven’t been guarding.” Davis said about the team’s effort in the losses including himself. “The way we are going to win games is defensively, we can’t bank on outscoring everyone.
He said the team still has to find ways to win without LeBron James. L.A. struggled to close the third quarter as Denver went on a 26-11 run. Los Angeles committed several turnovers and fouls during that stretch.
“We never expected to win three in a row,” Davis said about the team embracing the challenge over the stretch.
Davis finished 32 points, 4 blocks and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes versus the Nuggets.
Overall, the Lakers committed 19 turnovers which Denver turned into 24 points, while only committing 10 themselves. The Nuggets also shot 27-of-30 from the free throw line on there way to scoring 73 points in second half.
Kyle Kuzma also made his return from injury. Kuzma scored 9 points in the first half of his first game since Nov. 8. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 from the field. He was the only other Lakers player with double-digit points in the contest.
“This is probably the healthiest I’ve felt all season,” Kuzma said after his return. “…Tonight, I felt like me.”
The other bright spot included Rajon Rondo who started the game off hot. He entered the starting lineup with Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Davis and JaVale McGee as James was out. Rondo was the catalyst behind L.A.’s eight-point run in the first quarter. He scored five points along with 8 assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes.
However, L.A. gave up a 7-0 towards the close of the second half. The first half ended with the Lakers trailing 54-55.
The Nuggets also held the Lakers to only three offensive rebounds in the second half after 15 in the first half.
Denver lead 78-91 entering the fourth quarter. They would stretch that lead to 19 early in the final period and never looked back.
“I realize that LeBron was out but that’s still a really good team,” Denver head coach Mike Malone said after his team’s win secured the franchise’s best start ever. “I give our guys a ton of credit.”
The Western Conference’s second seeded Nuggets finished with six players in double-digit scoring. led by forward Paul Millsap with 21 points. He went 3-of-4 from distance too.
“I just wanted to be aggressive and make him work a little bit,” Millsap said about his matchup versus Davis.
The Nuggets also got a scoring burst from Malik Beasley who score 16 points in 21 minutes, including three 3-pointers on seven attempts.
“Any arena I play in, any city that we play in, I just want to get a win,” Beasley told the media bout playing in Los Angeles.
Beasley also said the team played together without individuals trying to steal the spotlight.
Will Barton chipped in 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Nikola Jokic added 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in only 27 minutes. Gary Harris was also efficient with 19 points, shooting seventy percent from the field on 10 attempts. Jerami Grant was efficient from three with six of his eight points coming from downtown too.
For the Lakers, James is considered day-to-day with a Thoracic muscle strain he suffered Tuesday versus the Pacers.
“It’s hard to say with something like that,” Vogel said about where the Lakers missed James in this game. “All over, Lebron James is obviously a game changer.”
L.B.J played the following game versus the Bucks and put up a triple-double. The King is averaging 25.8 points, 10.6 assists and 7.5 rebounds in his third season with the Lakers. James and Davis compose one of three duos in the entire NBA averaging more than 25 points each.
“Shots come easier when he’s on the floor because everybody just looks at him,” Kuzma said about playing without LeBron. “He is kind of invaluable.”
Los Angeles beat the Nuggets on Dec. 3 in Denver. They will play the Nuggets again Feb. 12 where they will try to take the regular season series advantage again.
For now, they will turn their sights to beating another elite Western Conference team on Wednesday when they face the Clippers.
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