The Los Angeles Lakers visit the Denver Nuggets tonight in the last game for the two Western Conference teams before the All-Star break with the first place Lakers holding a three-game lead (four in the loss column) over the second place Nuggets in the third of their four head-to-head regular season matches. At stake is momentum heading into the All-Star Break as the Nuggets could cut the Lakers lead to just two games with a win.
The road teams have won both games between the West rivals. The Lakers won the first game between the two teams 105–96 on December 3rd in Denver with James and Davis each scoring 25 points while holding Jokic to just 13 points. The Nuggets won the rematch 128–104 on December 22nd in Los Angeles with Rondo starting for the injured LeBron. While Davis scored 32 points, the Nuggets dominated with six players in double figures.
The Nuggets are on a four-game win streak while the Lakers have won two in a row and four of their last five but haven’t played well since the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others on January 26th. While the Nuggets hope to cut the Lakers lead to just two games heading into the All-Star break, the Lakers are looking to extend their lead in the loss column over the second place Nuggets and Clippers to five full games.
The keys to the game for the Lakers are to continue to keep Nikola Jokic in check. The Lakers have been able to hold the Joker to just 15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in the two games. That will be a big challenge as Jokic has been playing much better since last December. The stats for the two games combined show the Lakers with a 50.5 to 39.5 in rebounds per game and the Nuggets with a 28.5 to 21.0 assists per game edge while shooting percentages and free throws and threes made are fairly even.
As long LeBron James plays, the Lakers matchup well against the Nuggets. Hopefully, they will be engaged and ready to respond to the challenge of extending their lead heading into the All-Star break to five full games. On the other hand, the game is in Denver and the elevation always gives the home team an edge. The Nuggets will want to prove they can beat the Lakers even with LeBron and would like nothing less to pull off a big upset.
I have the Lakers coming out to solidify their standing as the best team in the West and extend their lead over the Nuggets and Clippers to five full games in the loss column. Look for the Lakers to beat the Nuggets 110–95.
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