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Lifeless Lakers demolished by Nuggets in third straight loss

Nikola Jokic nearly had a triple-double by halftime as the Lakers’ defense apparently missed the trip to Denver, resulting in one of L.A.’s worst losses of the season.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers may have been playing a mile above sea level, but they continued plummeting down to earth as the purple and gold got blown out by a struggling Denver Nuggets team 133-96 on Saturday.

The Lakers’ defense turned in one of its worst performances of the season, allowing Denver to reach the 100-point mark by the end of the third quarter. Every member of the Nuggets’ starting unit scored in double figures, led by Jeff Green (yes, that Jeff Green) with 26 while backup point guard Bones Hyland added 27 points off the bench.

Russell Westbrook broke out of his scoring slump somewhat, finishing 7-15 from the field with 19 points. He also hit his first three-pointer in six games, snapping an 0-16 skid from deep. But LeBron James finished with just 25 points, and even if he hadn’t turned in just his second sub-30-point outing since Dec. 19, it wouldn’t have been enough to overcome a defensive performance that let Denver have whatever it wanted. The Nuggets especially feasted on wide-open looks from three-point range, going 23-40 from deep.

To make things even uglier, a brawl nearly broke out halfway through the third quarter when Westbrook ran into a hard foul from Aaron Gordon and immediately started jawing. The two players had to be separated and each was assessed a technical, so all parties were able to avoid a scene like the one that happened in Detroit in November.

After an abysmal showing in Sacramento on Thursday, the Lakers moved off their recent small-ball approach and inserted Nikola Jokic stopper Dwight Howard into the starting lineup, moving James to the four and sending Stanley Johnson to the bench. The only thing it helped, though, was to clarify how much Howard has regressed since the 2020 NBA bubble. Though Dwight finished with 13 points — all in the first half — thanks to some crisp rim-running, the Joker had his way with Superman, as the 2021 NBA MVP finished with a 17-point, 12-rebound, 13-assist triple-double.

It’s getting hard to keep finding new ways to describe how bad this team looks in nearly every facet right now. The Lakers weren’t a good defensive team to begin with, but their effort on that end of the court over the past few games has been almost nonexistent, and that lack of energy spilled over onto the offensive end as well.

For most of the season, the message out of the Lakers’ locker room and front office was “wait until we get healthy.” While Anthony Davis remains sidelined due to an MCL sprain, the Lakers are otherwise pretty much healthy, and their issues right now appear far bigger than even the return of an impact player like Davis can fully solve. We’ll have to see if and how they shake things up before the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but right now, a team that many believed would at least make a deep playoff run in a weak Western Conference may not even make the postseason.

In conclusion:

The Lakers return home to Crypto.com Arena on Monday to play the Utah Jazz, during which both teams will participate in the NBA-wide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. PT on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinGreen44.