Following a dispiriting loss to the rival Boston Celtics last Tuesday, the Lakers bounced back on Friday against the Denver Nuggets with their most complete victory of the season. Despite losing Anthony Davis to a foot injury in the first half, L.A. got contributions from across the board, and might have just found a formula that could propel them to more wins like that one moving forward.
Putting X and O’s and statistics aside, what was inspiring about Los Angeles’ Friday night victory was how they stayed composed despite losing their best player. Thomas Bryant — who picked up the slack for Davis — had his best game as a Laker, scoring his timely 21 points against Denver’s unimposing frontcourt when the team needed it the most. The Lakers bench also outscored the Nuggets’ second unit (54-17) led by much-needed bursts from Russell Westbrook, Austin Reaves and rookie Max Christie.
The purple and gold fought hard, gritted through a tough matchup against the Western Conference’s third seed (who also happened to be on a three-game winning streak) and actually retained their lead in the fourth quarter — displaying a sign of improvement and progress. Normally, it’s their opponents that expose the Lakers’ weaknesses, but not on Friday night. In fact, Los Angeles unmasked Denver’s defensive issues, thanks to three key factors they’ll need to sustain moving forward.
The more contributions, the better
Compared to the previous heartbreaking game against the Celtics, the role players performed much better vs. the Nuggets. No Laker scored more than 20 points outside of Davis and James on Tuesday, but on Friday, Bryant (21), Westbrook (15) Patrick Beverley (10), Reaves (16), Dennis Schröder (15) Christie (6, on two timely fourth-quarter threes) all showed up. The Lakers entered the game as the worst shooting team in the league (32%), so it made sense why the Nuggets gave up 33 3-pointers, but credit the Lakers for capitalizing by converting 36% of those attempts.
It also helped that the role players stepped up while James was on the bench and pacing himself throughout the game. One of the biggest reasons why the 37-year-old all-time great put the game on ice — in spectacular fashion that only he can orchestrate — was because he had enough left in the tank by the fourth quarter. This is exactly how the Lakers can preserve their superstars and win games moving forward with more ease.
LeBron is officially LeBack
Speaking of James’ heroics, the superstar has finally found his rhythm and momentum after suffering a couple of minor setbacks to start the season. In the past three games, James is averaging 32.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6 assists on 65% shooting, which of course is a significantly good sign for the Lakers. As long as James is healthy and has his groove going, the Lakers will always have their closer and be competitive on the floor.
LeBron's first 11 games:— ɴᴏᴛ (@georgemikan) December 17, 2022
▫️ 25 PPG, 53 TS%
▫️ 9 RPG, 7 APG
▫️ -5.6 On/Off
LeBron's last 10 games:
▫️ 29 PPG, 60 TS%
▫️ 9 RPG, 6 APG
▫️ +9.9 On/Off
And maybe the best sign of the last 10 games: only 2.5 turnovers/game. https://t.co/pomWzgkXFl
Since returning from the groin injury, LeBron James has played in 11 games, averaging 28.3 ppg on 60% TS to go with 9 rebounds and 6 assists.— Jason Timpf (@_JasonLT) December 17, 2022
The Lakers are 7-4 in those games despite the two heartbreaking losses to Indy and Boston, +63 with him on the court, -31 with him off.
Most exciting item last night was undoubtedly Lebron looking as twitchy as we’ve seen this year.— LAbound (@LAbound2) December 17, 2022
First-step explosion here pops out.
The footwork isn’t necessarily good (used right foot to push-off, but left fails to get enough north-south movement) but the burst is there man. pic.twitter.com/CzD1DL8wKj
Protecting their leads
A welcome sight to see was how the Lakers sealed Friday’s game midway (!) through the last period. This wouldn’t have been possible if they didn’t stay composed and retain the 11-point lead they built by the eight-minute mark of the period, when James took a breather.
The credit goes to their defense (they limited the Nuggets to an 86.5 offensive rating in the second half), how well they protected the rim and converted Denver’s lapses into transition baskets, where they produced 28 points. They initially blew a nine-point lead in the second period and didn’t score for a five minute span, but what was notable was how they continued to climb and didn’t falter when Denver had their own 12-point run in the third frame. This is a good sign, and definitely a step in building a winning formula.
For the first time in a long while, the Lakers did a lot of the right things to close a game and get the best of their opponent. The good habits that Darvin Ham has long been harping on were well-executed and on full display on Friday, and resulted in a much-needed victory for this Lakers team.
Now, the only question is whether or not these habits will remain and continue to develop over time. We’ll know more about that when the Lakers face Kyle Kuzma and the visiting Washington Wizards on Sunday.
Notes and Updates
- The Wizards (11-19) are currently on a nine-game losing spell and have by far been one of the worst teams in the league over the past couple of weeks. They will also be on the back end of a back-to-back on Sunday when they face the Lakers after losing to the Clippers on Saturday. This is the perfect opportunity for the Lakers, who will be on the front end of their own back-to-back, to capitalize against a struggling team and build off their recent victory at home.
- Speaking of the Wizards, Kuzma has been a popular topic over here in Lakerland this week. The Lakers are reportedly interested in bringing the forward back home. You can read all about that below.
- On the Lakers’ injury report, LeBron James (left ankle soreness) is listed as probable. Anthony Davis (right foot soreness) is out, as are Wenyen Gabriel (left shoulder sprain) and Juan Toscano-Anderson (right ankle sprain).
- Meanwhile, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider (G League Two Way) will be on South Bay Lakers duties. at out on Saturday, but could return on Sunday.
- Bradley Beal missed Saturday’s game, but could in theory return tomorrow against the Lakers.
Bradley Beal is OUT today vs. the Clippers.— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) December 17, 2022
Beal played some 3-on-3 yesterday at Wizards practice. Washington plays the Lakers tomorrow.
- For news around the league, it’s been two months since the NBA season began and it seems the Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) have claimed the first seed in the Western Conference, while the Boston Celtics (22-8) are leading the Eastern Conference. Let’s check back on this next month and see how well these two teams stay composed in their current seeding.
The Lakers and Wizards will tip off at 6:30 p.m. PT on Sunday. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.