Five takeaways from Denver’s dismantling of Los Angeles

Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) reacts in the second quarter after receiving a foul from Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart (3) at the Pepsi Center.
Nov 27, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) reacts in the second quarter after receiving a foul from Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart (3) at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets continued to play at a high level Tuesday night as they knocked off LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 117-85 to capture their fourth-straight win.

With the win, Denver pushed their record to 14-7, which is good for third place in the Western Conference. Denver is now just a half game out of first place in a very crowded West as they embark on a five game road trip.

Before the Nuggets hit the road, let’s dive into the five takeaways from the Nuggets big win over the Lakers.

Headband Paul Millsap is a forced to be reckoned with 

Ever since Millsap had to get stitches in the Nuggets game last week against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has worn a headband and has played phenomenal while doing so. Tuesday’s performance against the Lakers was no different as Millsap was scoring the basketball at will to go along with his usual play on the defensive end of the floor.

Coming into the game, Millsap was averaging 12.9 points per game and was second on he Nuggets in rebounds with 6.7 per game. Those numbers will only increase after the Lakers game as Millsap had 16 points and seven rebounds in the first half alone.

His 16 first half points came on 7-of-11 shooting from the field as Millsap was constantly asserting himself on the offensive end of the floor. It was not just offense for Millsap though as he also had a block and a steal in his 13 first-half minutes.

Millsap also dominated the second half just like he did the games first two quarters. Millsap was constantly looking for mismatches all night long and it is a big reason why he finished the night with 20 points on an efficient 9-of-14 shooting from the field. Millsap also chipped in a game high 11 rebounds, with five of those coming on the offensive end of the floor. Coupled with his two blocks and one steal, Millsap was certainly a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor in the Nuggets victory over Los Angelas.

Nikola Jokic comes out of the halftime locker room firing 

After just two points in the first half, Jokic had yet to find his groove offensively and was having to find other ways to get his teammates involved. Jokic did that by grabbing three rebounds and dishing out five assists in the opening two quarters, but had yet to get the offense going for himself.

That would not take long though as Jokic began the second half by drilling two straight threes from the top of the arc to give him six points in the opening minute of the third quarter. That was just the start of it though as Jokic added in two more layups, including this slick basket in transition.

Before you know it, Jokic was up to 14 points by the end of the third quarter to go along with his seven rebounds and seven assists. Triple-double watch was officially on heading into the fourth quarter, but Jokic would finish just shy yet again.

After the Nuggets stretched their lead to 26 points with 7:29 left in the game, the Nuggets were able to rest Jokic until the final buzzer. That still left Jokic with a pretty solid stat line though and positives that he could build on going into a long road trip.

Mason Plumlee, Juancho Hernangomez, Jamal Murray, and Monte Morris all have big night for Denver

Each one of these players could have had their own takeaway and you would not have batted an eye. Whether it was phenomenal bench play from Plumlee and Morris or great play in the starting unit with Murray and Hernangomez, they all had a huge impact on the game. The four combined to score 49 points — Murray 20, Hernangomez 12, Plumlee 10, Morris 7 — while shooting a combined 20-of-39 from the field.

That poster dunk was the stamp on the Nuggets big win. It really set the tone from the opening tip that the Nuggets were not going to be denied. To go along with his 12 points, Hernangomez also chipped in four rebounds, two assists, and one block en route to a very solid game.

Just like what Hernangomez’s dunk did for him, the same can be said for the 15 first-half points that Murray poured in. An array of incredible shots got Murray going in the second quarter and was big in the Nuggets offensive success as a whole. It kept the offensive rhythm going for Denver and played a key role in them finishing the night with 117 points.

“It was great. Like I said, we were difficult to guard because everyone is a threat,” Murray told the media after the game. “Juancho (Hernangomez) will come in and dunk on you, Malik (Beasley) put up a career-high tonight and everybody shares the ball and looks for the best shots. We play really unselfish.”

The unselfishness the Nuggets played with is certainly on full display with everyone on the floor, but it becomes even clearer when both Morris and Plumlee are on the court. That combination continues to be an extremely efficient one-two punch and is a key reason why the Nuggets bench unit continues to have success. Not only did Plumlee score 10 points, but he also got a double-double with 10 rebounds as well. As for Morris, he dished out seven assists and coupled it with zero turnovers. The stats do not lie; these guys are for real and they were all key pieces in the Nuggets picking up a 32-point victory over the Lakers.

Malik Beasley provides instant energy off the bench in route to a career high in points 

The Nuggets bench unit has been a constant force to be reckoned with all season and Beasley is a big reason as to why. With the energy he plays with on a nightly basis, Beasley instantly provides the Nuggets a major spark plug anytime he is on the floor. It was no different against Los Angeles as Beasley immediately went on a personal 5-0 run after being inserted into the game midway through the first quarter.

After Torrey Craig picked up his second foul at the six minute mark of the first quarter, Beasley subbed in and made his presence known with a 3-pointer over LeBron James and a nice lay in at the rim.

Beasley finished the first half with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in his 18 first half minutes, while doing a great job filling in for Craig and injured starter Gary Harris. It was not just offense from Beasley though as he also chipped in one steal in the first half that led to an easy transition basket for the Nuggets.

What Beasley gives the Nuggets on both ends of the floor is paramount in the success of the second unit and that only continued into the second half. Beasley was just getting started as he finished the game with a career-high 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from behind the three-point line. Beasley also finished the game with four rebounds and two steals, while continuing to showcase just how much he brings to this team on both ends of the floor.

“I’m so thankful that my teammates on the bench like Will Barton, Gary Harris. They are all trying to get me to go for 20 when I had 18 or 16 and it’s cool,” Beasley told the media on his career night. “It’s the first of many and I’m just glad we got the win. It was the largest win against Lakers in team history and that’s the important thing.”

The Nuggets certainly have some incredible team chemistry going and it is awesome to see a guy whose worked so hard like Beasley finally get rewarded. For so many years, Beasley was the player who was the most active on the Nuggets bench, but always struggled to find his way on the court. That is not the case anymore though as Beasley’s role is firmly cemented on this Nuggets rotation and his performance against the Lakers was the first of what should be many special nights for the Nuggets’ third-year guard.

Nuggets find a way to slow down LeBron James, while showing off their defensive dominance 

The Nuggets had troubles in the first half trying to stop James’ drive to the rim, but who has success in that department? Still, the Nuggets were able to hold arguably the best player to ever step on a basketball court just 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field. James did chip in seven rebounds, but he also had four turnovers and only two assists as the Nuggets did a good job defending him all night long. It was the lowest point total James has put up all season.

After recording a triple-double in the last matchup between the Nuggets and Lakers, James was often matched up against Craig and Millsap. The play from those two on the defensive end of the floor was huge in slowing down James, who usually has a pretty good game when he plays the Nuggets. There is no doubt that slowing down arguably the best player in the world was monumental in the Nuggets picking up a big time victory on Tuesday night.

“I think we are a defensive team,” Beasley told the media after the game. “Offense is always going to come because we are all offensively skilled and every guy can score the ball. I think this defensive thing is really taking over and it’s going to help us down the stretch and get us to the playoffs.”

In the win, the Nuggets defensive rating moved to 103.2, which is good for third in the NBA only trailing the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nuggets are also top 10 in the NBA in steals per game with 8.5 and Denver forced Los Angeles to shoot just 3-of-35 from three-point range on Tuesday night. Seeing as the Nuggets are through 21 games now, it is safe to say this Nuggets defense is no fluke and their performance on Tuesday night puts another notch in that belt.