The second-seeded Denver Nuggets are the surprise team of the year, but they came into Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles on a three-game losing streak.
Denver had lost to the New Orleans Pelicans, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs and were in a funk. In order to bounce back, they would need to beat the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James chasing Michael Jordan to become the fourth-highest scorer in NBA history.
The Lakers came into the game on a three-game skid of their own as they desperately looked to keep their playoff hopes alive. In the end, they did not have enough to grab the win on a historical night making it four-straight losses and now their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.
The Nuggets came away with a 115-99 win despite LeBron James passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list for their 43rd win of the season. With that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Barton’s solid start, Harris’ magical finish
The Nuggets started the game out as strong as they have all season long. They went to Staples Center and put on quite a show. The offense was clicking, defense was locked in and they were up for the challenge after coming off of three-straight losses.
Denver put up 43 points in the first quarter and went into the half with a 17-point lead behind Will Barton’s 16 points, two assists and three rebounds. Even after a very strong first half, Denver allowed Los Angeles to go on a big run in the third quarter which let the Lakers get back into the game. At one point, it looked as if Los Angeles was going to win the game until the Nuggets delivered the final blow.
With the game on the line and all momentum pointing towards the direction of the Lakers, it was the stellar play by Gary Harris that sealed the victory. Harris took over the game as he came alive in the fourth quarter.
With 7:30 remaining in the fourth quarter Harris hit a 3-pointer to give the Nuggets a 92-87 lead and then he hit another triple from the exact same spot. Denver finally regained their edge and Harris delivered the final blow with an and-one finish that he converted for a three-point play. Harris capped off his run with a scoop layup on the next possession.
All of a sudden Harris had put up 11-straight points which put the Nuggets back up by nine points. Harris snatched the momentum from the Lakers by himself.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) March 7, 2019
It was the play of the starters that carried Denver to victory, but the play of Barton early in the game, and then Harris down the stretch, proved to be too much for the Lakers. It was those two who ensured the Nuggets victory.
Bad – Third quarter struggles
All seemed to be well for the Nuggets after they put together a fantastic first half. The Nuggets were up 43-25 after the first quarter and continued their strong play in the second quarter as they went into the halftime intermission up 66-49.
The third quarter is when things took a turn for the worst and it was almost was the reason that Denver did not come away with a win.
Behind the lackadaisical play of the second unit, the Nuggets watched their 23-point lead nearly completely vanish into a minuscule two-point.
Los Angeles pumped some energy back into the Staples Center crowd as the Nuggets allowed the Lakers to fight back in the game behind the bench play of Alex Caruso and Mo Wagner with James capping it off with a dunk of his own. Denver then had to put the starters back in the game to stop the bleeding and get back on the right track.
Denver’s bench unit has not been producing at a high level as they were for most of the season.
Both offensively and defensively, they have not been the same team and it unfortunately has happened as soon as the Nuggets began to try to incorporate Isaiah Thomas into the team’s rotation. So far, Thomas has been having clear cohesion issues.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone and the Nuggets will have to find some answers soon or make changes with the playoffs looming.
Ugly – One sided national attention
People will not remember the score, nor will they remember who won the game or the flawless execution by the Nuggets down the stretch.
What they will remember is that LeBron passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list.
It is a remarkable accomplishment from arguably the best player of all time and warrants praise, but SportsCenter and every other media outlet across the country will not be talking about how the Nuggets surpassed last season’s road win total with the win, but only about how LeBron moved into fourth place on the all-time scoring list.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 7, 2019
The King had his moment as it came and went. Luckily for Denver, there is another opportunity this week to make things right and steal some of the spotlight back.
The Nuggets and Lakers had split both games prior to Wednesday’s game so with the win Denver now has a 2-1 edge and are within striking distance of the Golden State Warriors for the top overall spot. What is even better is that the Nuggets play the Warriors on Friday and could reclaim the top spot out West with a win.