The Los Angeles Lakers sit atop the Pacific Division and have won seven in a row, but things haven’t been easy lately for the defending champions.
In the course of a week, Los Angeles has eked by the Detroit Pistons in double overtime, needed overtime (twice) to beat Oklahoma City and then fell behind by 20 to Memphis on Friday night before rallying to win by 10. The Lakers cannot afford to do that when they play at the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.
The last comfortable win for Los Angeles came against Denver on Feb. 4. The Lakers trailed at halftime but outscored the Nuggets by 33 in the second half to win 114-93. This is the second meeting between the teams that met in last season’s Western Conference Finals, and it’s a chance for Denver to finish off a four-game homestand with three wins.
The Nuggets had trouble as well Friday night, falling behind by 19 to the Thunder before rallying to win 97-95. Jamal Murray twisted an ankle and had a bloody lip but still scored 22 and is ready for Sunday night.
“I feel good. It’s just one game I have to get through,” he said after the win. “There’s a season and playoffs, but I feel good.”
The loss to the Lakers was the first of three straight losses that were marked by poor third quarters. In the past two wins, Denver has played better after halftime and has overcome the absence of guards Gary Harris (adductor strain) and PJ Dozier (hamstring).
Harris and Dozier have been doing off-the-court workouts, and while they will not play Sunday night they will be on the upcoming four-game road trip that starts Tuesday in Boston.
One factor in the past two games has been the offense provided by Michael Porter Jr., who had 19 points and 15 points, respectively, after struggling during the recent losing streak.
“We’re not worried about Mike,” Murray said. “As long as we defend, once everybody starts defending, and talking, and communicating, and giving effort, we can go out there and beat anybody, no matter how we play on offense.”
The Lakers got a boost when Anthony Davis returned from a two-game absence due to a sore Achilles to score 35 points against the Grizzlies. Still, they trailed 22-2 at the outset of the game and the early deficits — they also fell behind by 20 against Oklahoma City on Wednesday night — are a source of frustration for Los Angeles.
“We should never be down 20 points at any point in time with the personnel that we have on our team,” Kyle Kuzma said. “But we’ve been through the fire, and we know how to walk people down. We’ve been having to walk people down a little too much lately.”
Facing a Denver team that has championship aspirations could be the spark the Lakers need for better starts, but coach Frank Vogel isn’t concerned about his team.
“We don’t want to lose any of these games,” Vogel said. “The big picture is to build habits that are going to win for us in the playoffs.”
–Field Level Media