March 9, 2018, 8:48 pm
The Lakers (29-35) are taking a one day trip to the Rockies to take on the Denver Nuggets (35-30) on Friday.
Los Angeles will be looking to avenge a frustrating loss they incurred December 12 when they faltered down the stretch, allowing Denver to score the last 15 points in the game to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat. Point guard Jamal Murray added salt to the wound by dribbling around Laker rookie Lonzo Ball as the clock was winding down. Several Lakers took exception to the showboating tactic and exchanged words with Murray — Ball was not one of those players. One can imagine that insulting interaction will only add fuel to the fire as the two teams meet for a third time this season.
Los Angeles has been red-hot, winning 18-of-26 games to creep to within five and a half games of the Nuggets. If the Lakers are to continue to indulge their playoff dreams, this game is a must win. The Nuggets will be equally motivated, having lost two games in a row to fall into a three-way tie for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are extremely thin on the wing at the moment, having lost Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart to injury, while compounding the issue by releasing Corey Brewer just before the two injuries occurred. Brewer appears to be fitting in well with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, starting in their last game while contributing 17 points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal in 28 minutes against the Suns.
Los Angeles made a move to bolster their depth on Friday by signing former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams to a 10-day deal. Williams, who grew up a Laker fan in Southern California, most recently played in the Chinese Basketball Association. He is expected to play both small forward and power forward for the Lakers during his trial deal.
The Nuggets are led by extremely talented center Nikola Jokic who averages 17.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers while shooting 49.0 percent from the field and 84.1 percent from the free throw line. Denver runs a lot of their offense through their versatile big man so slowing him down will be a primary concern for the Lakers.
He will be matched up with Laker center Brook Lopez who is coming off a game in which he scored 27 points and knocked down two free throws with 0.6 seconds give the Lakers a one-point lead and a victory. However, in the process he became the first seven-footer in NBA history to record at least 25 points without recording a single rebound. The Lakers will need him to provide scoring, defense and rebounding if they are to contend with Jokic and the Nuggets.
Joining Lopez in the frontcourt is Julius Randle, who is in the midst of a breakout year with averages of 15.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Randle was limited due to illness in the Lakers’ last game but is reportedly feeling better for tonight’s game.
-A major focus in this competition will be both scoring in and defending the paint. The Lakers lead the league with 52.9 points per game in the paint with the Nuggets close behind at 49.3 points per game (fourth).
-Los Angeles is second-worst at defending down low, conceding 48.6 points per game in the paint (second) vs. 47.3 points per game (sixth).
-One of the significant differences between these two teams this year is 3-point shooting. The Nuggets shoot 36.6 percent from 3-point range for the year (12th) in contrast to the Lakers who shoot 34.3 percent from long range (29th). However, since the All-Star break the Lakers are shooting a much improved 41.4 percent from 3-point range while the Nuggets have remained consistent with 36.8 percent on their attempts from that range.
-The Lakers have shown tremendous defensive improvement this year with a season long defensive rating of 105.3 (11th) vs. Denver who is near the bottom of the league with a 108.6 defensive rating (26th).
Projected Starting Lineups
Lonzo Ball (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Kyle Kuzma (SF)
Julius Randle (PF)
Brook Lopez (C)
Jamal Murray (PG)
Gary Harris (SG)
Will Barton (SF)
Paul Millsap (PF)
Nikola Jokic (C)
Brandon Ingram (left groin strain) – OUT
Josh Hart (finger) – OUT
Channing Frye (appendectomy) – OUT
Jamal Murray (head) – STARTING
Wilson Chandler (hip) – OUT
Time: 6:00 PM PST, 9:00 PM EST
Television: ALTITUDE, SPECSN/SPECD
Radio: KKSE 950AM, 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES