Good, bad & ugly: Nuggets annihilate LeBron-less Lakers

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the second half at Staples Center.
December 22, 2019; Los Angeles, California, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets went into Sunday night’s nationally televised game on a five-game winning streak and looked to continue their solid play against the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, but there was one catch — the Lakers were without LeBron James.

Denver’s hot-streak pushed them back into second place in the Western Conference and they looked to close the gap with a road win at the Staples Center over the Lakers.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, Denver steamrolled the Lakers to push the Nuggets winning streak to six.

After the Nuggets 128-104 win over Los Angeles, I give you the good, bad, and ugly.

Good – Jokic’s hot streak continues

Nikola Jokic did not begin the season the way that he has wanted or what many have become accustomed to, but he has seemed to have settled into a groove in the past few games and is now resembling the player that made the All-Star team just a season ago.

Jokic came into Denver’s battle with the Lakers fresh off of a game against the Timberwolves in which he recorded his fifth triple-double of the season and he carried that stellar play into Sunday’s game against Los Angeles.

The last time the Nuggets and Lakers played each other was two weeks ago and Jokic had one of his worst games of the season. He went 4-12 from the field for 13 points and just could not get himself going. He also had five turnovers in the game as the Nuggets fell 105-96. In Sunday’s game, he redeemed himself.

 

The Nuggets All-NBA center found his groove early and had himself a quiet-yet-efficient night which led to Denver rolling past Los Angeles.

Jokic was able to dominate inside on the Lakers’ big men and also hit a lone 3-pointer in the game as he finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

On a night that the Nuggets won by 24 points and had six players finish in double-digits, Denver was able to rely on their big man to get them going early and it led to their big win.

Bad – Los Angeles owns the paint early on

The Nuggets are a team that has struggled to begin the season with getting off to quick starts and in Sunday’s contest against Los Angeles, they started off a bit slow yet again.

Denver began the game with great energy and a few quick baskets, but then hit a scoring wall and could not find a rhythm despite getting numerous open looks.

With missed shots by Denver accumulating, Los Angeles made it a point to be aggressive rebounding the basketball and also attacked the Nuggets inside which has been a tactic that teams have been employing against Denver all season long.

Los Angeles finished the half off with 32 points in the paint and 19 of those were second-chance points.

Head coach Michael Malone tinkered with the lineups attempting to find ways at a rebounding advantage, but the Nuggets were being outworked on the offensive glass which allowed the Lakers to get back in the game.

Denver had to work extremely hard for baskets while the Lakers got what they wanted at the rim as Los Angeles finished the first half off with 15 offensive rebounds.

Without James playing, Anthony Davis was the focal point of the offense for the Lakers and who the Nuggets had to slow down. Davis took on the scoring load for Los Angeles and went into the half with 19 points and eight rebounds.

While the Nuggets did a better job with finding some consistency in the second quarter and taking a lead into the halftime intermission behind their bench unit, it was a half that was overshadowed by Los Angeles grabbing what seemed like every rebound and scoring at will in the paint.

Ugly – Shooting woes continue for Murray

The Nuggets schedule to finish off the calendar year is interesting. They have very winnable games, but four of their next five games are on the road so getting a win over the Lakers with one of the better offensive games that the Nuggets have had in recent memory is a positive.

But not every player had a solid game.

Jamal Murray has been one of the most consistent players for the Nuggets this season, but one thing that has been understated have been his struggles from beyond the arc.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Murray was shooting 33.3% from beyond the arc. The offense has run through him at times, he has made the right plays and he has gotten open looks, but his shot has not been able to drop.

After his 0-6 performance against the Lakers, he will see that percentage continues to drop.

He could not find a rhythm and finished with six points. He shot 3-11 shooting from the field and looked as if something was a bit off.

Murray is not a player that makes excuses and has also been able to put together some solid outings, but maybe the injuries are starting to catch up to him.

Murray took a knee from Ben Simmons and had a hard fall a couple of weeks back against Philadelphia 76ers that forced him to miss one game, but he has not shot the ball well since.

The Nuggets starting point guard is 10-31 from beyond the arc since that game and those ailments seem to be catching up with him.

Murray is a fierce competitor and one of the NBA’s top ironmen that wants to help his team every single night, but with the Nuggets making up some ground out West and the All-Star break just around the corner, maybe he could benefit with sitting a couple of those games and starting out the new year with some fresh legs and a clean bill of health.

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