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Lakers vs. Nuggets Preview: No Russell Westbrook?

With Westbrook likely to miss the game due to hamstring soreness, LeBron James and Anthony Davis will look to lead the squad and get their first win of the season against another daunting foe in the Denver Nuggets.

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Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to win their first game of the regular season after falling to 0-3 following their collapse down the stretch against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

They will be looking to separate themselves from the small group of NBA teams that are yet to win a game, a group that includes the Magic, Kings, and Thunder (assuming the Thunder don’t beat the Clippers Tuesday evening). To do so, the Lakers will have to face a Western Conference contender — yet again — in the form of the Denver Nuggets.

Here’s our preview of the road game against the Nuggets as the pressure mounts against the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook is doubtful to play

After Tuesday’s practice, Darvin Ham was asked if he was going to make any changes to his starting lineup of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Lonnie Walker IV, and Patrick Beverley. He replied and said, “Not today.”

Maybe that was a bit of semantics since the game will be played tomorrow, and it seems his hand may end up getting forced: Russell Westbrook has been listed as “doubtful” on the injury report for Wednesday’s game in Denver.

Westbrook’s availability is in question due to left hamstring soreness, which is presumably the same soreness that started after the preseason finale vs. the Kings. Westbrook infamously stated that the hamstring soreness was likely due to coming off the bench in that game, as he stated that his entire routine before and during the game was off due to being excluded from the starting lineup.

The “doubtful” designation comes after a Monday full of discussions surrounding Westbrook across the entire league’s coverage after he took an ill-advised mid-range jump shot in the waning moments of the team’s loss on Sunday vs. the Trail Blazers.

There’s nothing good about an injury to Westbrook, or to any other Laker for that matter. However, if Westbrook does in fact sit out due to the injury, Rob Pelinka and the rest of the Lakers brass will get to see how this 2022-23 roster looks with LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the pack without Russ.

We’ve all heard the reports about how Pelinka and the Lakers front office will wait until around 20 games have passed before they make a major trade decision with Westbrook. With those reports, it’s been stated that they want to give this roster a chance to see how it fares before the Lakers trade away one or both of the only remaining first-round draft picks they can deal in this current decade.

Twenty games is an extremely small sample size, and now Pelinka and the front office may be getting one less look at how LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook will play together in these first 20 games. In doing so, however, they can evaluate how this roster would look sans Russ before adding whatever pieces they’d get back in a theoretical trade involving him.

So it’s a blessing in disguise in that regard when looking long term, however, there are some definite worries to be had for the Lakers’ rotation in the short term. This is one of the Lakers’ starters after all, with Ham needing to find a way to not only replace that slot in the lineup but also Westbrook’s 28.7 minutes per game so far.

The team definitely could replace his guard minutes with increased playing time for Kendrick Nunn (14.7 MPG) and Austin Reaves (19.0 MPG). They’ve been part of the Lakers’ poor shooting issues themselves, however, increased opportunities for them may break them out of their funk and their combined 3-point percentage of 25.9% is still much more than Westbrook’s 8.3% (the bar is so low). It also doesn’t help that the most natural Westbrook replacement, Dennis Schröder, is still recovering from his thumb surgery.

Either way, this creates a challenge of adaptation for Ham on top of his challenge to improve what is currently the worst offense in the NBA based on offensive rating heading into Tuesday night’s action. He’ll have to drastically change his rotation so early in the season, and right before the team’s first road trip of the season.

And if the Lakers play well against the Nuggets, that’s great, but it may end up creating even more challenges ahead for Ham to face once Westbrook is healthy...

Notes and Updates

  • The other Lakers players on the injury report are as follows: LeBron James (left foot soreness) and Anthony Davis (lower back tightness) are listed as “probable”. Thomas Bryant (recovery from thumb surgery), Dennis Schröder (recovery from thumb surgery), Cole Swider (foot injury and two-way assignment), and Scotty Pippen Jr. (two-way assignment) are all out.
  • The Denver Nuggets have Jeff Green (left finger sprain) listed as probable while Collin Gillespie (right leg fracture) is out. Notably, Michael Porter Jr. — who has played well so far in the Nuggets’ first four games — will be is also out due to injury management for the major back issues that kept him out of nearly all of last season.
  • Around the league, the Trail Blazers' offense returned in a big way on Monday night after being mostly stifled by the Lakers on Sunday. They beat the Nuggets 135-110 behind a monster 29-point performance from Anfernee Simons that included a blistering 3rd quarter only rivaled by the likes of Klay Thompson.

The Lakers and Nuggets will tip off at 7 p.m. PT in Denver. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN while also being locally televised by Spectrum SportsNet.

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

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