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Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Preview

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The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Denver Nuggets at STAPLES Center...but the real question is, who will be a Los Angeles Laker at tip-off?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Showtime: 6:30pm PT

Plot: Both the Denver Nuggets and LA Lakers are no strangers to recent long losing streaks--Los Angeles just stopped a six gamer, while the Nuggs just put an end to an eight game skid of their own. However, the real storyline for the Lakers is...will Pau Gasol be in the starting line-up come opening tip?

The trade rumors regarding Gasol continue two swirl into the weekend, as the Lakers flirt with the idea of dealing Pau to Cleveland for a package headlined by Andrew Bynum and the promise of getting under the luxury tax. If Gasol remains with the team, he'll suit up and play around speculation as he has for seemingly the previous three seasons. If he doesn't....well, this could get messy, fast.

The Lakers finally got back to winning on Friday versus the Utah Jazz, in a game in which Kendall Marshall threw down an incredible 20/6/15 stat line that absolutely defied logic. The newest Laker was phenomenal in his first start in LA, subbing for five downed incumbent point guards (yes, five). Aided by Gasol (a near triple double with 23/17/8), Jodie Meeks (18 points) and Nick Young (16 points), Marshall deftly weaved through a porous Utah defense that ceded 51.9% shooting to a newly cohesive Lakers offense. I'm not sure the LA defense was as much good as the Jazz offense was just terrible. However, in this rough month of January, a win is a win and the Lakers have to take it.

With Gasol, facing a Denver squad that's playing horrible basketball has a decent chance of ending in a victory. During their last nine games--in which the team has won just once--the Nuggets have a point differential average of -10.4, the worst in the NBA in that time span. They have lost the ability to shoot threes (29% 3P) and have committed over 16 turnovers per game. Defensively, they've surrendered 106 points per game on 47% shooting, including nearly 40% on three pointers. The Lakers, one of the league's best three point shooting teams, have to be pretty fired up to be facing a Denver squad that's playing their worst ball of the year right now.

But without Pau, the Lakers could be scrambling to find a new equilibrium yet again. As we've seen time and time again, the Lakers do not play well, especially with a system so contingent on ball movement, when the rotations shift. Removing a gigantic piece like Gasol could seriously impede LA's opportunity to take down a Denver team that's playing horrible basketball.

We won't know who the Lakers are until later in the day. However, if they're the team we saw on Friday, they might be able to find a win in a month where those could be very elusive.

And if they're not the team we saw on Friday? I think this game will be the least of anyone's concerns.

--MAMBINO

--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino