If you got frustrated with the way the Los Angeles Lakers played in the first half of their matchup with the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night and turned off whatever device you were watching the game on, you had every reason to do so. They were playing an incredibly frustrating brand of basketball, with the exception of a few players.
However, if you did that, you missed arguably one of the best stretches of basketball the Lakers have played this season. Starting late in the third quarter, the Lakers locked in on the defensive end and played with a sense of urgency that led to them not only getting out to the largest lead of the game (15), but also energized them to a win over a scrappy Nuggets team.
The run started with Jokic’s fourth foul of the night. While the Lakers did an overall great job of defending the MVP candidate, they obviously didn’t complain when they saw him head to the bench with a little over three minutes left in the third quarter.
With Jokic on the bench, the Lakers were able to go small with Montrezl Harrell at the center position. Outside of Harrell, though, there was nothing small about the way Los Angeles played to close the third quarter. For just the third time this season, Frank Vogel played a lineup of Talen Horton-Tucker, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Montrezl Harrell. That lineup used their length to cause problems defensively and their speed to beat the Nuggets on offense.
Then, at the top of the fourth quarter, Vogel once again turned to the five-man lineup of Alex Caruso, Horton-Tucker, James, Kuzma and Harrell. From that point on, it was curtains.
Those weren’t the only players that showed heart in the second half, though. Dennis Schröder, who scored 21 points on 7-9 shooting from the field on Thursday, was playing hard on both ends of the floor from the moment the ball was tipped off. Obviously keeping Jokic quiet was priority No. 1 for the Lakers, but they had to be mindful of Jamal Murray, too, and Schröder played a big role in their success.
To top the night off with a cherry, James recored a triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. That certainly looks like an MVP stat line to me.
The Lakers will be back at it on Saturday to host the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center. The Pistons beat the Lakers pretty badly in Detroit just last week, so it’s safe to assume they’ll be locked in for that one.