The Los Angeles Lakers' five-game winning streak came to an end on Monday as they got beaten by the No. 1 team in the West, the Denver Nuggets, 122-109. With LeBron James ruled out, the Lakers were one too many rotation players short and never truly appeared to be in this game.
Kendrick Nunn continued his recently improved offensive production with 15 points off the bench and Max Christie was another bright spot for the Lakeshow. At 19 years old, he started his first NBA game and contributed 14 points in the loss.
For Denver, Nikola Jokić demonstrated why he is the reigning two-time MVP. He had a triple double with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 16 assists and did it while moving as quickly as a groundhog. Jamal Murray continues to gain strength and confidence as the season progresses; he had a season-high 34 points and shot 13-29 from the field in his 36 minutes of play.
The Nuggets quickly established dominance on Monday, showing why they have been the top team in the West all season. They led after one by just six points, but Joker already led the team in points and rebounds in the quarter and the Lakers struggled to find offense. Russ in particular was a sore spot. He had zero points and went 0 for 4 from the field in the first. With so many players out, it's hard to win if the last star standing doesn’t go nuclear.
In the second, the distance between the teams only grew. Denver controlled the boards; only Thomas Bryant was in double digits for the Lakers in rebounds, and the team found themselves down by two dozen going into the break.
With their three best scorers out, down by double digits heading into the third, it would’ve been understandable to waive the white flag and concede this game. The Lakers have won five in a row and the streak had to end sometime.
L.A., however, came out swinging after halftime.
Rookie two-way contract player Cole Swider finally got some run and capitalized, hitting a couple of threes (he finished with 6 points on 2-5 shooting from deep). Russ attacked the rim and converted a few momentum-swinging layups, and after a couple of careless Denver turnovers the deficit shrunk down to five.
But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that action for the Nuggets was a combo of Murray, Joker, Bruce Brown and former Lakers champion Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They went on a 17-8 run to close out the quarter and keep control of the game.
Lakers have battled tonight, but the injury absences have added up on the 3rd game in 4 nights coming off the B2B wins on Friday and Saturday.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 10, 2023
LAL had to start the 4th Q with two rookies and 10-day-contracted Sterling Brown, and Denver's regular 2nd unit has taken advantage.
In the final frame, there were no more comebacks left in these “try-hard” Lakers. They exchanged buckets for half of the quarter with Denver until ultimately the Nuggets added to their lead, and the final minutes were just garbage time.
This loss dropped Los Angeles to 19-22 overall, still in 11th place in the West.
We are now officially at the halfway point and while things have improved, they are also still the same. We are looking at another sub-500 team with questionable roster construction and in jeopardy of wasting another LeBron James season.
Luckily, there is still a lot of basketball left to play. You can see that there is a good team in here somewhere with James, Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves and other core players. The question remains whether this team can get healthy and whether the front office will make the necessary moves to give this group a chance. Anthony Davis will be ramping up his workouts later this week, and with the trade deadline just a month away now, these questions will be answered soon.