The Denver Nuggets dropped another game in LA, losing 126-108 to the Los Angeles Lakers due to poor effort, execution, and apathy.

It didn’t matter that Lakers center Anthony Davis exited Friday night’s game with a foot injury. Thomas Bryant stepped up in his place, outplaying two-time MVP Nikola Jokić in the second half. Bryant helped set the tone for the Lakers as they pushed the pace, out hustling and outworking the Nuggets on both ends of the floor. The Lakers had 28 fast break points, 64 points in the paint, and hit three more three-pointers than the Nuggets. The Nuggets had 19 total turnovers, fueling those fast breaks consistently and never giving themselves an opportunity to stabilize in the second half.

Jokić finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists. Jamal Murray added 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists of his own. Unfortunately, the duo combined for 10 turnovers and never seemed in a good enough rhythm all night.

LeBron James dropped 30 points and made it look easy against a hapless Nuggets defense. Russell Westbrook had a triple-double off the bench, and the Lakers were +25 in his 30 minutes, an abnormal occurrence propped up by Denver.

Overall, a “players only meeting” type of loss for the Nuggets.

Here are my primary takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night:

Embarrassing defense on the road continues

Giving up 126 points to the Los Angeles Lakers is flat out disgusting. The Lakers have crossed that threshold a couple of times this year, but this was ludicrous.

Anthony Davis didn’t suit up for the second half due to a foot injury that was clearly bothering him in the first half. In his place stepped backup center Thomas Bryant, who scored 21 points on 11 shots, battled on the offensive glass, and outworked every Nugget tonight.

LeBron James shot 13-of-20 from the field tonight, attempting just four threes. He got wherever he wanted to go tonight as well.

The Nuggets gave up at least 29 points in every quarter. There was no single three-minute stretch during this game when the Nuggets actually played well. It was a game marked by miscues, woeful closeouts, and poor energy/effort. As apathetic a Nuggets defensive performance as we’ve seen so far this year.

Christian Braun gets benched

In the midst of all of Denver’s questions about effort and defensive execution, Christian Braun was benched on Friday night. He was the first sub off the bench in the first quarter and didn’t have a ton of success while out there, but no more or less than the rest of the bench unit.

Unfortunately for Braun, he caught the axe from Michael Malone, who went to Davon Reed in the second quarter. The lineups featuring Reed had success in the first half, so Malone went back to Reed in the second half. That time, it didn’t work out so well. Reed finished the game with one point, two assists, and two rebounds and was a net neutral plus-minus. Braun actually finished the game a +3 in the plus-minus department, even though it wasn’t his night.

Denver’s bench problems go far beyond the decision between Braun and Reed though. Bones Hyland finished the game a -24 in 15 minutes, scoring just five points on nine shot attempts and giving up everything on the defensive end. Jeff Green had some decent offensive rebounding moments, but he couldn’t match up with LeBron James in those stints and was ultimately a major minus. DeAndre Jordan didn’t even make it to the second half.

The Nuggets have some major questions to answer whenever Jokić is off the floor. So far, the answers have all been different variations of giving up.

Nikola Jokić has to take charge of the defense

Jokić isn’t a bad defender. He’s not a great defender. He’s somewhere in the middle.

Teams with average defensive centers can still be decent defensively. As long as passing lanes are blocked, closeouts are sharp, and rotations are crisp, there’s no reason why the Nuggets can’t get back into the top half of defensive rating by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the Nuggets are nowhere near that mark now. What was once a middling defense is now at the bottom, and nobody seems to really understand where the effort and intensity have gone.

Jokić may not be the best defensive player on the team, but as the team’s leader and the anchor at center, it is time for him to step up and take ownership over Denver’s mistakes. Teams are attacking him in pick and roll and isolation like an airplane runway, and he’s done little to dissuade them. Simply, Jokić has to be better, and he has to hold his teammates accountable in doing the same. The message cannot just come from Malone and the coaching staff. The players have to take ownership over what has increasingly looked like a failure of effort, communication, and willpower.

If the Nuggets do not take a step forward defensively, then there will be no playoff victories, let alone championships, to speak of during the Jokić and Malone era.

Final Rotations