Here is what you need to know before the Lakers host the Denver Nuggets.
This matchup features a duel between the top two point guards of this year’s draft. The Lakers took D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 overall pick, while Denver selected Emmanuel Mudiay five spots later. Only one other point guard — Oklahoma City’s Cameron Payne — was taken in the lottery (No. 14).
Russell’s stat sheet has been quiet through three games, averaging 9.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 25.3 minutes. The First Team All-American has also shot just 11-of-30 (36.7 percent) from the field, though he has hit double-digit scoring in back-to-back-games.
Mudiay, on the other hand, has been louder in ways both good and bad. The 19-year-old is putting up 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per night, but also has a league-high 6.3 turnovers while shooting 14-of-42 (33.3 percent). He set a franchise record with nine assists in his career debut on Oct. 28, but also became the youngest player with 11 turnovers since at least 1985.
While the one-guards may command the spotlight, Julius Randle is the likely candidate to draw it toward himself. In the fourth contest of his career, Randle finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, joining Marc Gasol (2008), Sharone Wright (1994) and Shaquille O’Neal (1992) as the most recent players to tally 20 points and 15 rebounds in so few games.
The Lakers are looking to clean up a defense that has allowed averages of 115.7 points and 25.7 assists so far. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant was given Monday’s practice off as he tries to shake off a 16-of-51 shooting slump to start the season.
L.A. has been letting the long ball fly with an NBA-high 34.0 3-point attempts per game thus far. However, it has also shot just 29.4 percent from deep. Last season the Lakers hit 14-of-25 on triples against Denver on Dec. 30. That 56.0 percent clip was the best of any Nuggets opponent that year.
The Lakers are likely in for another high-scoring battle, as Denver allowed 105.0 points per game last year, which was surpassed only by the purple and gold itself (105.3) and Minnesota (106.5).
Since the end of last season, Danilo Gallinari has been Denver’s go-to scorer, hitting double figures in 22 of his last 25 games, including 11 20-point efforts and a pair of 40-point outbursts. However, he shot a career-low 40.1 percent last year and is just 14-of-41 (34.1 percent) in this campaign.
Both teams are ailing at the moment. Brandon Bass (corneal abrasion, left eye) and Larry Nance, Jr. (broken nose) are questionable for L.A. Meantime, Denver will be without Wilson Chandler (right hip strain) and Jusuf Nurkic (left patellar tendon repair), while Nikola Jokic (lower back strain) and Joffrey Lauvergne are questionable themselves. Kenneth Faried (lower back soreness) is probable.
The Lakers have beaten the Nuggets in 26 of their last 34 games in L.A., but that edge has recently flipped. Denver won 15 of the past 22 overall, including four in a row at Staples Center.