Their Los Angeles Lakers fought valiantly for most of the night but failed to hold off the Denver Nuggets in an explosive third quarter. LA fell to 0-4 on the year. Even with starting supervisor Russell Westbrook (Austin Reaves started instead), LA continued to struggle with its shooting.
One of the silver linings of this Lakers season is that this younger, more athletic LA roster has shown a willingness to defend at a high level.
Los Angeles tried to get Davis cooking early. He went 4 of 9 out of the field for eight points, pulling down four boards and dealing three dimes. Denver led 26:22 at the break.
After a rare scoreless first quarter, LeBron James looked revitalized in the second. Namely:
Bruce Brown slayed LA for the entire first half and is exactly the kind of funny, crack-filling role-player who would completely avoid Rob Pelinka’s free-hand gaze. In the first half, Brown had a team-high 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting (including 4-of-5-of-three) for the Nuggets.
Davis’ formerly acclaimed midrange game continues to look rusty, though Brow claims to have fully recovered from the wrist injury that hampered his shot for much of the 2021-22 season.
LA finished the second frame in a mini-run and went out 13-4 during the last 2:32 of the half. Walker and Davis were responsible for most of the damage. At halftime, AD LA led with 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting, plus five rebounds and three assists. Davis also had the game-winning flush (courtesy of LeBron James):
Walker scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shots from the floor (1-of-3 from deep). James got off to a smooth start, scoring seven points on 3-of-8 shooting. Troy Brown Jr. became an important part of LA’s rotation due to his ability to actually defend wings. He played 15:54 in the first half alone, more than any other Laker reserve.
Reaves didn’t look like scoring much but was efficient when he did, going 2-of-3 from the floor (1-of-2 from distance) at half-time for five points.
The third quarter marked the moment when everything went to hell. The Nuggets outplayed the Lakers 32-17 in the frame. Jokic himself scored 10 points during the frame and finished the period with 23 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Jamal Murray and ex-Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made big contributions.
The Lakers’ shooting stayed cold in the picture, and LA shot a paltry 6 of 18 from the floor. Denver is tied on 14 of 23 of his field goals.
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The happiest moment of the frame for LA was LeBron James making another mark on the NBA history books: He’s hitting double digits in 1,100 straight games, the longest streak of its kind, per clutch points.
We were promptly treated to a little LeBron Athon early in the fourth frame. Darvin Ham decided to pull out some big guns to open the fourth quarter, with 15th man attracting Matt Ryan and promptly nailing a three-pointer. Brown, who dealt out Ryan for the three-pointer, was also part of that lineup that helped LA lead an 8-0 run against the Nuggets’ Scrubs to win Los Angeles by single digits 86-79.
With 9:21 left, head coach Michael Malone decided to stop the bleeding. He replaced ex-Laker DeAndre Jordan andDaph Reed in exchange for Nikola Jokic and Bruce Brown. Ham used the break in play to swap Patrick Beverley in favor of Lonnie Walker IV amid another bad night of shooting.
The big problem with playing Matt Ryan is that Matt Ryan gives (trebles) and Matt Ryan takes away (fouls). Shortly after nailing his triple, Matty Ice fouled solid Nuggets rookie Christian Braun. Oh well.
Ham put Beverley and Reaves in play to handle the ball after Ryan shot and Brown defended… and then the game spiraled out of control.
With Denver leading 108-92 at 2:34, Darvin Ham raised the white flag, bringing in a deep bench lineup from Ryan, Kendrick Nunn, Damian Jones (who also saw some minutes of rotation in the second quarter), Wenyen Gabriel and newcomer Max Christie.
Anthony Davis was LA’s MVP, finishing the tournament with 22 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. After landing awkwardly from a botched rebound, Davis appeared to be aggravating the lower back injury that had plagued him since the preseason. He seemed to spend the rest of the night somewhat restricted by his back, but given the team’s terrible other centers, AD still struggled with Jokic for 37 minutes. To be fair, he basically grimaces every other time he lands, so maybe the injury isn’t something to worry about:
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Nikola Jokic scored 31 points, pulled 13 rebounds, gave nine assists and stole four steals. The two-time MVP just couldn’t be stopped:
Four other nuggets scored double digits, including all other starters not named Aaron Gordon.
The shooting numbers between the two clubs were actually quite similar. LA shot 44.4% on 90 field goal attempts and scored 8 of 30 from deep (26.7%). Denver made 45.7% of their 92 field goal looks and went from deep only 9 of 34 (26.5%).
Denver got to the line a little more often and was more effective from there as well, going off the free throw line 17 of 21 (81%). Los Angeles shot just 11 of 16 (68.8%) from the charity strip.
The big difference tonight was Denver’s ability to score while also picking up the pace. The Nuggets outplayed their Lakers 35-18 in fast break points.