March 14, 2018, 3:56 am
The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 112-103 on Tuesday night.
This game had added emotion due to Jamal Murray taunting the Lakers at the end of each of the Nuggets’ previous two wins. In the first game he dribbled around Lonzo Ball with the clock running out and in the second game he talked trash in the direction of Ball and the Laker bench — neither gesture was received well. Laker players, led by Julius Randle, confronted Murray after his first transgression and coach Luke Walton had to be restrained after the second incident. At the end of the game, Isaiah Thomas tossed the ball in the direction of Murray. Even the Laker fans got into it, booing Murray during introductions, every time he touched the ball early and chanting “Murray Sucks” during the game. Randle and Nuggets’ star Nikola Jokic had to be separated in the final minutes of this contest — it appears that a rivalry has been born.
Los Angeles came out extremely motivated, taking a 35-22 lead at the end of the first quarter. They outshot the Nuggets 48.1 percent to 40.9 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from 3-point range vs. 28.6 percent for Denver and outrebounded them 15-10. Brook Lopez came out hot for the Lakers, scoring eight of their first twelve points to set the tone. Randle added 11 points and three rebounds while Ball contributed without scoring, tallying two rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
The second quarter was as poor for the Lakers as the first quarter was good. Los Angeles converted only 3-of-18 shots from the field, was outscored by 12 points, turned the ball over seven times and generally looked discombobulated. For the first time in a while, the young Lakers let their offensive malaise affect their defense, allowing the Nuggets to build a 13-point lead at 80-67 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The only Laker who was played well in the third was Kyle Kuzma, who scored 16 points in the period after only two in the entire first half. He was able to keep the Lakers in contact with the Nuggets before helping spark a run that would bring the Lakers within five to end the third. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle on the final play of the period, leaving the court for a while before returning to help the Lakers close out the victory.
The Lakers used a 9-0 in the fourth to eventually take the lead and pull away from Denver. After blowing leads in their previous two losses to the Nuggets, the Lakers were able to overcome some poor free throw shooting down the stretch to escape with a satisfying victory.
Thomas crossed over Jokic badly to score a layup that put the game out of reach for Denver. Although he only shot 7-of-19 from the floor and appeared frustrated at times (picked up a technical foul), his ability to penetrate was crucial tonight. He finished with 23 points, four rebounds, two assists, three turnovers and a plus-15 rating. He was able to knock down 4-of-9 from 3-point range and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Randle continued to beast for the Lakers with 26 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, four turnovers and a plus-13 rating while making 11-of-17 from the field.
He was joined by Kuzma, who mirrored Randle with 26 points, 13 rebounds and two assists. He was efficient tonight, converting 10-of-20 from the field, 5-of-11 from 3-point range and committing only one turnover. Interestingly he somehow managed to accrue a minus-9 rating although he was pivotal to the Lakers’ win.
Ball struggled badly from the field for the second consecutive game, knocking down only 2-of-11 from the field and 1-of-7 from 3-point range. He did contribute in his usual fashion, accumulating five points, nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals, two blocks and a game-high plus-18 rating. He also had a highlight chase down block of a Gary Harris layup that the Lakers quickly converted to a Lopez 3-pointer — an early momentum building play.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued his solid play of late, especially on the glass, tallying 10 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals on 3-of-6 shooting.
The Nuggets were led by Wilson Chandler who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
The Lakers did a great job of stifling Jokic, holding him to 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists, one steal and four turnovers on 5-of-8 shooting and 3-of-3 from the line.
Murray, the instigator between the two teams, had a very respectable 18 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals while shooting 5-of-11 from the field, 3-of-7 from 3-point range and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. He appeared to be pressing down the stretch, committing turnovers and making poor choices with the basketball. Perhaps the emotion built into this game or the Laker fans got to him — one can be certain that they relished the opportunity to contribute to his failure this time and a bit of retribution.
Key Stats and Observations
-The Lakers outrebounded Denver 52-44 overall and 12-5 on the offensive glass.
-Los Angeles outscored the Nuggets 20-7 in fast break points.
-Both teams scored 44 points in the paint, well below their individual average points in the point scored and allowed.
-Each team shot exactly 40 3-pointers with Denver knocking down 13 (32.5 percent) and Los Angeles making 15 (37.5 percent).
-The Lakers missed 2-of-8 free throws down the stretch before Randle knocked down a pair with 33 seconds remaining. Not only did this poor shooting keep the Nuggets in the game, but it demolished the Lakers’ free throw percentage from 13-of-15 (86.7 percent) to 17-of-25 (68.0 percent). In comparison, Denver shot 14-of-19 from the line for 73.7 percent.
The Lakers head north to take on the Golden State Warriors as part of a back-to-back set.
Los Angeles will hope to take advantage of a team that will be missing two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and rookie Jordan Bell.
Unfortunately, the Lakers will still have to deal with Kevin Durant, arguably one of the best players in the league. Durant is averaging 26.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 2.6 3-pointers on 52.0 percent shooting from the field and 88.5 percent from the line.