After a heartbreaking loss against Boston, the Lakers bounced back by beating the Nuggets, 126-108, on Friday night. After Anthony Davis left the game with a right foot injury, his partner in crime LeBron James stepped up to lead the team with 23 points and 6 rebounds.
James also had two steals on the night, allowing him to move up yet another career leaderboard in Year 20 of his Hall of Fame career.
Per the Lakers:— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 17, 2022
"With his second steal of the night, LeBron James passed Hakeem Olajuwon for ninth place on the NBA’s all-time steals list."
8. Clyde Drexler – 2,207
9. LeBron James – 2,163
10. Hakeem Olajuwon – 2,162
Aiding him was fellow starter and recent standout Dennis Schröder, who finished with 15 points and one of his better games of the season to help the Lakers improve to 12-16.
When playing the Nuggets, the biggest focus for the opposing team is usually Nikola Jokić. The responsibility of slowing him down fell in the hands of AD, who didn’t necessarily stop the Joker but did slow him down and make him work for every basket in the first half. Davis was on pace for another MVP-level performance when he injured his ankle in the second quarter and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
With the Lakers struggling to get minutes from the center and power forward position, and AD being ruled out, Thomas Bryant additionally stepped up and played well. He had 21 points, and 6 rebounds in his 24 minutes of play, but it’s his intangibles that stood out. Boxing out, discouraging players from finishing near the rim, and making a basket here and there. If Bryant can just be above replacement level at his role, then he’s succeeding and helping the Lakers win.
With the game hanging in the balance, the Lakers took control in the third, going on a 20-5 run to end the quarter. They added to that momentum in the fourth, starting that frame on an 11-5 run.
Up by nine points with eight minutes left at home, most teams would feel comfortable about the win, but not the Lakers. They just gave up what should have been a victory in the same situation on Monday against the Celtics, so there was no sense of comfort from the fans or the players midway through the fourth.
Fortunately for the Lakeshow, they were able to get the win tonight. The 3-point shooting that started off horrendously poor the first ten games of the season was a positive, with the team shooting 38% from beyond the arc.
Russell Westbrook, a player many have criticized for his closing efforts this season, was also incredibly steady on Friday. He led the offense and had added another triple-double to his resume with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists to secure the win against the third-best team in the Western Conference.
More important than tonight’s result is AD’s health. Yes, the Lakers were able to win without him playing the majority of the night, but if Davis misses significant time, that’s going to be devastating for a team fighting to even get into the play-in picture. No one wants players hurt, especially one who has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons, so hopefully this injury is just a minor setback.