Three Things to Know

Lakers vs. Nuggets: Three Things to Know (8/10/20)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers have just two more seeding games to play before the playoffs begin next week, with a matchup against the Denver Nuggets coming first on Monday evening. Below are three things you need to know before tipoff:

KCP’s IRON MAN STREAK SET TO STOP
The Lakers will be without starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope against Denver as they take extra precaution with his right foot contusion. In the first half of L.A.’s Saturday evening game against Indiana, KCP had the ankle/foot stepped on by Myles Turner. Most players would have been out for the game right there from the way that it looked, but after the time out, there was KCP back on the floor. He’d ultimately play 32 minutes, scoring eight points on 3 of 7 FG’s with a pair of 3-point makes.

KCP has been the Lakers Iron Man since being acquired prior to the 2017-18 season. He started all 74 games he appeared in that season, and has not missed a game since, playing all 82 in 2018-19 and all 69 in 2019-20, with Monday’s set to be his first absence. Frank Vogel said that it’s more of a precaution, that KCP would play if it were a playoff game.

The Georgia native has yet to get untracked in the Bubble, shooting 5 for 18 from three and averaging 7.3 points per game. Yet he also started the regular season slowly before finding a nice rhythm in November, and he certainly hasn’t been alone from an offensive perspective in Orlando. The Lakers haven’t been crisp in general on that end, but do expect an uptick when the playoffs begin, and the level of play rises accordingly.

THE RACE FOR THE EIGHT SEED
The race for L.A.’s Round 1 opponent remains pretty wide open, with four teams still in play: Memphis, Portland, San Antonio and Phoenix. We can all handicap the race as we see it, debating who the best team is amongst that group, balanced against who has the “easiest” remaining schedule. Here are the basics from Twitter last night:

Phoenix plays today, and you may know that result by the time you read this. Tuesday is a big day for the rest of the squads, with all four teams in action. Get your popcorn ready!

We won’t know the final No. 8 and No. 9 seedings until Thursday, with all four teams again playing. They’ll face off on Saturday, and if the No. 9 seed wins, they’ll play again on Sunday for the right to face the Lakers.

MATCHING UP WITH DENVER
The Lakers went 2-1 against Denver prior to the COVID-19 hiatus, beating them in the Mile High City twice, and losing a home game in the absence of LeBron James. LAL won a Dec. 3 matchup won 105-96, and then a Feb. 12 game 120-116 (OT), while losing the game without LeBron 128-104 on Dec. 22, the first game back home from L.A.’s punishing month that had eight road games to only one home game.

In short, LeBron and AD were able to outplay Nuggets star Nikola Jokic when all three played. Jamal Murray did play very well in the OT game, going for 32 points and 10 assists after having a more routine game on Dec. 3. Denver’s offense is very good, with Jokic picking apart opposing defenses, but their defense is in the middle of the pack at No. 14, and the Lakers had no problem getting what they wanted on that end of the floor. Then in crunch time, AD, LeBron or Dwight Howard were able to make life more difficult on Jokic.

The Nuggets went 8-7 after the All-Star break, and 3-2 in the Bubble thus far, with the main difference in their squad being the lack of health in the back court (Murray just returned, while Gary Harris and Will Barton remain out). On the other hand, Michael Porter Jr. has emerged in a big way offensively, while his defense and resulting net rating still have a lot of room for growth. How the Lakers matchup with MPJ will be of interest on Monday.

At the moment, the Nuggets are the No. 3 seed, though they do have a chance to get to No. 2, since they play the Clippers on Wednesday. If the Lakers beat the Nuggets, they would increase the chances that they’d see Denver in Round 2 IF they’re able to advance from Round 1, depending on if Houston (currently 1.5 games back of Denver) wins out in their seeding games.

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