A key stretch of the 2021-22 season got off to a promising start for the Denver Nuggets Thursday night, as a 140-108 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers kicked off a season-long, six-game homestand with a win.
The 140 points marked a new season-high for the Nuggets, who shot 62.7 percent from the field and 50 percent (21-of-42) from beyond the arc. Six players scored in double-figures for the Mile High squad, who racked up 35 assists in the win.
Denver (21-19) now welcomes the Los Angeles Lakers to Ball Arena for a Saturday night showdown.
Los Angeles (21-21) has disappointed this season as a result of key injuries and struggles to identify the most effective lineup combinations. The Lakers own the 22nd-ranked net rating (minus-1.6) and rank below the league average in both offensive and defensive ratings.
This is the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Los Angeles won two of the three meetings last season.
JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT KNEE INJURY RECOVERY. OUT.
MICHAEL PORTER JR. – LUMBAR SPINE SURGERY. OUT.
VLATKO CANCAR – RIGHT FOOT SURGERY. OUT.
P.J. DOZIER – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.
MARKUS HOWARD – G LEAGUE TWO-WAY. OUT.
WILL BARTON – NECK STRAIN. PROBABLE.
TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and NBA TV, 92.5FM
Win the possession battle
The Lakers have struggled on both ends of the floor this season. Los Angeles ranks 19th in defensive rating, but one area the team has thrived in on that end of the floor is forcing turnovers. The Lakers rank 11th in opponent turnover percentage on the season.
However, the Lakers have been prone to mistakes on the other side of the ball, ranking 21st in their own turnover percentage. The team right ahead of Los Angeles in the rankings? The Nuggets, who rank 20th in turnover percentage after some recent struggles when it comes to valuing each possession.
In a matchup that could come down to a few possessions, whichever team avoids mistakes effectively will have a key advantage.
Attack the glass
One intriguing wrinkle to the Lakers’ season has been the new role for LeBron James, who has assumed the starting center spot in recent weeks. Although James has thrived in this role and put up eye-popping numbers, it has certainly had an effect on LA’s rebounding, especially on the defensive end.
Since the start of the new year, the Lakers rank 29th in opponent offensive rebound percentage, allowing an offensive rebound on 30.8 percent of missed shots. On the offensive end, the Lakers have been slightly below league average on the glass during this stretch.
Denver has struggled to replicate past success on the offensive glass this season (ranking 26th in the league) but has a prime opportunity against a small Lakers starting lineup.
Defending at the rim
The Nuggets will have their work cut out for themselves Saturday night when it comes to slowing down the Lakers’ offense. 38.1 percent of LA’s total shot attempts have come within four feet of the basket this season, the second-highest frequency in the league. As a result, Los Angeles ranks in the bottom third of the league in the frequency of 3-point attempts and mid-range shot attempts.
The Lakers have converted 65.8 percent of those shot attempts at the rim, good for 11th in the league. Denver’s defense has been effective in limiting shot attempts at the basket (opponents have taken 30.3 percent of their shot attempts from that area of the floor, the 11th-lowest frequency in the league), but teams have converted at a high clip when they get to the cup.
Opponents have shot 69.4 percent at the rim against the Nuggets this season, the highest percentage in the league. Denver must be locked in defensively to limit LA’s trips to the basket Saturday night.