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PREVIEW: Los Angeles Lakers open homestand vs. well-rested Nuggets

Jan 27, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James warms up against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel says his club remains a work in progress. Despite owning one of the NBA’s best records at 16-6, Vogel believes the Lakers can improve.

“We’ll continue to stick to our process and hopefully get better as the season goes along,” Vogel said.

The process will get a test Thursday when the Lakers open a five-game homestand against the Denver Nuggets in a matchup of Western Conference contenders.

The two teams will meet for the first time since the Lakers captured the conference finals 4-1 over the Nuggets last season.

Read More: RECAP: LeBron James, Lakers stifle Hawks late for 107-99 win

Los Angeles completed a 5-2 road trip by beating the Atlanta Hawks 107-99 on Monday. Anthony Davis scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting with three blocks, and LeBron James contributed 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers, winners of 10 of their last 13 games. Montrezl Harrell, who made eight of nine shots, added 19 points and Dennis Schroder chipped in 16.

The Lakers’ bench sparked an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a double-digit advantage before James hit some clutch buckets and free throws late to hold off the Hawks.

“The group plays hard and they’re scrappy defensively,” Davis said of the reserve unit, which featured Harrell, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker. “Everyone does their jobs. … That group is a special group. And it’s our job to come in when that group does its job to finish it off for them and secure the victory.”

Related: If you’re a fan of the Lakers, check out #TheLakeShow rumors, rankings, and news here

The Nuggets have been on a four-day break after Monday’s contest at home against the Detroit Pistons was postponed because the latter did not have the required eight players available due to the NBA’s safety and health protocols.

On Sunday, the Nuggets earned a 128-117 win over the Jazz, ending Utah’s 11-game winning streak. Nikola Jokic tied a career-high with 47 points on 17-of-26 shooting, making all four of his 3-pointers. He also had 12 rebounds and five assists.

“I think the main thing is just to win the game,” said Jokic, who scored 33 points in the first half, according to the Denver Post. “I’m gonna score however much I need to just to win the game.”

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Nuggets coach Michael Malone removed Jokic from the game with 1:39 remaining much to the disappointment of his teammates, who wanted the center to score 50 points. Nuggets guard Jamal Murray objected with humor by tossing the basketball toward Malone.

“I love the fact that he’s even thinking about that, trying to get his teammate to 50,” Malone said.

Will Barton scored 18 points, connecting on 5-of-6 3-pointers, and Murray added 16 points and five assists for the Nuggets, who have won six of their last seven contests. The Nuggets converted 54 percent of their shots from the floor and made 18 of 28 3-pointers (64.3 percent).

Related: If you’re a fan of the Nuggets, check out #MileHighBasketball rumors, rankings, and news here.

Denver guard Gary Harris (left adductor strain) left the contest after the first quarter and did not return. He will not play vs. Los Angeles.

–Field Level Media