The Denver Nuggets are riding a five-game winning streak and oozing with confidence heading into Sunday’s contest at the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, who are expected to be without star LeBron James.
“They’re a fast-pace team but so are we,” said Denver guard Jamal Murray after the Nuggets earned a 109-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, according to the Denver Post.
“When we played them (before) we weren’t making shots and now we are. Hopefully, that carries over. We’ve got to rebound and we’ve got to control the paint. It’s going to be very tough with all of those bigs down there, but if we come with the right effort, I think we can do whatever we need to get a win.”
The Nuggets have the second-best record in the Western Conference.
“(The Lakers) are in first place for a reason. But I think our guys are more than ready for that challenge,” coach Michael Malone said in the Post.
The Lakers recorded a 105-96 win over the Nuggets at Denver on Dec. 3 behind 25 points each by James and Anthony Davis. Murray led the Nuggets with 22 points, but Nikola Jokic managed just 13 on 4 of 12 shooting. He also had five turnovers. Paul Millsap finished with 21 points and eight rebounds in the loss.
However, Jokic delivered a stronger performance on Friday against the Timberwolves, recording his fifth triple-double of the season with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Murray scored a team-high 28 points as the Nuggets completed a perfect five-game homestand.
The Lakers are coming off a 3-2 road trip in which they suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season. They fell 111-104 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday in a matchup of clubs with the league’s two best records. That setback occurred after a 105-102 loss Tuesday to the Indiana Pacers, snapping the Lakers’ 14-game road winning streak, the second-best in franchise history.
Davis, who sat out the game against the Pacers with a sprained ankle, returned against the Bucks and scored 36 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had three blocks. Davis, though, missed all six of his 3-point attempts.
James added 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh triple-double this season. Danny Green had 21 points, converting 7 of 12 3-pointers.
James, however, is doubtful for Sunday’s game because of a thoracic muscle strain in his back.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel told reporters that James suffered the injury on Tuesday against the Pacers and played with the ailment on Thursday.
James also didn’t participate in Saturday’s practice. If he sits out on Sunday, it will be his first missed game of the season. He is averaging 25.8 points, 10.6 assists and 7.5 rebounds.
The burden against the Nuggets will fall to the rest of the team, which struggled in the first half against the Bucks, who took a 65-46 lead into halftime. Although the Lakers cut the deficit to single digits in the second half, they never led.
“We did have some careless turnovers in the second quarter, which resulted in a lot of possessions for them, but once we kind of calmed down after that quarter, we played exceptional basketball offensively,” said James, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We got some great shots from the outside, we got some great interior possessions.”
The Lakers’ bench was practically non-existent against the Bucks. It was outscored 34-4, with Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo tallying two points apiece.
The Nuggets and Lakers’ reserves ranked 21st and 22nd in the NBA in scoring, respectively, through Friday’s games. Denver averages 34.4 points per contest compared to 33.8 for Los Angeles.
The Lakers could get a boost against the Nuggets. Forward Kyle Kuzma (ankle) practiced on Saturday and is probable to play. He has missed the past five games.
–Field Level Media