On the day of the trade deadline in which neither the Denver Nuggets nor Los Angeles Lakers made any roster moves, the Nuggets defeated the Lakers 114-106 in the building that they clinched the Western Conference Finals.

On Mamba Night, 2-8-24 honoring the late Kobe Bryant with a statue unveiling earlier in the day, the Nuggets defeated the Lakers by eight points, a close game that went down to the wire but saw the Nuggets pull away late with clutch play. The Lakers fought hard, drew plenty of free throws, played physical defense, and outworked the Nuggets at points.

But it was the trio of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. that sealed the deal, along with some timely, timely plays from Aaron Gordon.

 Murray led the way for Denver with 29 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds, putting up a strong performance on the night honoring one of his idols and former mentors. The Lakers consistently blitzed Murray and tried to get the ball out of his hands, but Murray kept working for his shots, set the table nicely for others, and took other when the team needed him. It was a strong, strong performance, capped off by a clutch three and transition floater to put the Nuggets up permanently.

Jokic wasn’t at his best tonight, but even his average-ish games are still special, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, and three blocks, a Sombor Double. Anthony Davis battled extremely hard against him, and there were moments when Jokic was disrupted on the offensive end against a hounding, physical Lakers defense.

It didn’t ultimately matter though, because Jokic and the Nuggets are inevitable. They stick with the game plan on nights like this and continue to execute in clutch moments over and over again. Jokic is always at the center of that and kept his poise on a night when it would have been easy to lose focus. He found Murray, Porter, and Peyton Watson down the stretch for assists while scoring against Davis when need be.

Porter hit a dagger three of his own on after Austin Reaves gambled to try and get a steal on Jokic, who wasn’t even facing him. Jokic avoided the steal and immediately passed to the player, Porter, that Reaves left wide open. Porter calmly and casually hit the three, which proved to be the nail in the coffin.

Porter had a fantastic night of his own, scoring 27 points on 11-of-20 from the field and 4-of-7 from three. The Nuggets found Porter shot attempts all night, who absorbed all of the shot attempts vacated by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who missed tonight’s game due to a hamstring injury. Porter’s defense was also very good, defending LeBron James and Anthony Davis effectively when switched onto them.

The Nuggets had to deal with some adversity in their rotation tonight. With KCP out, Justin Holiday started but picked up six fouls. Holiday only attempted one shot as well while out there and wasn’t very effective on either end. Christian Braun also played just 13 minutes tonight. It ended up being Peyton Watson closing the game for the Nuggets at shooting guard (MPJ was at SG in my rotation chart) with the Nuggets closing the game with Murray, Watson, Porter, Gordon, and Jokic.

That lineup ended up working out. Watson wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but he guarded LeBron down the stretch leaving Gordon to guard Davis and Jokic on Jaxson Hayes. That worked for Denver and allowed Murray and Porter to stay fresh defensively, which ended up making a difference in the shotmaking at the end.

This was a reminder game from Denver. They attempted just seven free throws. The Lakers gave it everything they had and hustled up. They even bothered Jokic and Murray at points throughout the contest.

But in the end, the Nuggets will always have enough against the Lakers. When it comes down to a close game, they have two of the best tough shotmakers in the NBA. They’ve got a lethal outside shooter who’s more than just a role player. They’ve got an all-world versatile defensive forward who can guard both LeBron and AD. And they’ve got a bench that…well, they’ve got a bench that’s figuring it out.

Denver’s just too good for Los Angeles right now, and this game was just another example. Trades or no trades, the Nuggets have what it takes in big moments, and this was a big moment for sure.

Final Rotations