Denver Nuggets 116, Los Angeles Lakers 120: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

It’s only fitting that a game between the top two teams in the Western Conference couldn’t be decided in regulation. Overtime was needed to settle things, as the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers put the All-Star break on hold for a little longer. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the Lakers escaped with the 120-116 victory, following tough shot-making from Anthony Davis throughout the overtime period.

"Give them credit, it was a great game," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "I can't fault the effort from our guys. Our guys gave it everything they had, it's just a tough loss."

Although the Lakers quickly scored the first two baskets of the game, the Nuggets responded with an 8-0 run to take an early lead. Denver was able to maintain control of the game throughout the quarter. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić served as a dynamic one-two punch for Denver early, as the two combined for 18 points in the first frame. The Nuggets led 31-23 after one as the Lakers’ offense slumped to 40 percent shooting from the field.

Hot 3-point shooting helped the Nuggets build a 13-point lead within the first four minutes of the second quarter. Denver had already knocked down six 3-pointers within the first 16 minutes of the game. However, Los Angeles slowly crawled back into the game throughout the middle stages of the quarter and ultimately took the lead back late in the half. The Nuggets struggled to make shots offensively throughout the quarter and the Lakers built an advantage on the boards to secure a 61-55 lead at the break.

Although Los Angeles quickly increased its lead to double-digits early in the third quarter, the Nuggets used an 11-0 scoring run to tie the game at 66. It was a back-and-forth affair throughout the remainder of the quarter, as neither team could sustain momentum to go on an extended run. As the referees increased the frequency of foul calls, the Pepsi Center crowd made its presence felt, likening the atmosphere in the arena to that of a crucial playoff game. After several consecutive baskets from Murray late in the quarter, the Nuggets were able to take an 87-84 lead into the fourth frame.

As expected, James wouldn’t let the Lakers go down quietly. Following an and-one layup and dunk in transition, James tied the game at 92 with nine minutes remaining. James continued to wreak havoc in the open floor as the Lakers took a three-point lead around the seven-minute mark of the final quarter. However, the Nuggets battled back and took a 103-97 lead with just over four minutes remaining.

James took over for the Lakers down the stretch as he relentlessly attacked the basket. The result was typically a layup for the three-time NBA champion or an easy offensive rebound for his running mate Davis. Despite producing several baskets for Los Angeles down the stretch, James missed an open mid-range jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game.

Davis fueled the Lakers’ offense in overtime with his 3-point shooting. Despite having an opportunity to tie the game with 20 seconds remaining, a crucial turnover from Jokić essentially sealed the victory for Los Angeles.

"We're in a great position heading into the break, but don't relax," Malone said when asked what he told the players before they departed for the All-Star break. "We need to come out of the break with a head of steam and hopefully we're able to do that."

Here are three takeaways from the Nuggets’ loss:

Jokić and Murray produced again for Denver

Over the past week, the Nuggets have benefitted tremendously from their two leading players serving as a dynamic one-two punch. Both Jokić and Murray have been playing at elite levels in February, which continued against Los Angeles on Wednesday. As mentioned earlier, the two fueled a majority of Denver’s offense in the first quarter with 18 points.

Denver’s two-time All-Star finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on efficient 9-of-17 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, Murray paced the Nuggets’ offense with 32 points and 10 assists on 13-of-25 shooting from the field.

"He (Murray) played well," Malone said. "He put the ball in the basket. That's an incredible game against the best team in the West. I can't fault anybody in that locker room for their effort tonight."

The second unit stepped up

It sure is a luxury for Michael Malone to be able to have a four-time All-star come off the bench. As Paul Millsap continues to work his way back from injury, he is on a minutes restriction. As a result, Malone has opted to deploy him from the bench over the past three games and it has done wonders for Denver’s second unit.

The 35-year-old forward finished with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists on the night, while Monte Morris (12 points and four assists) was also key in fueling the second unit. Noah Vonleh made his Nuggets debut and promptly knocked down a 3-pointer early in the second quarter. In all, five players saw playing time off the bench, highlighting Denver’s impressive depth.

Efficient ball movement fueled the offense

The Nuggets’ offense is known for its amount of ball and player movement, which helped pace their success against the Lakers. The Nuggets finished with more assists (32 to 29) and less turnovers (10 to 12) to stay in the battle until the very end.

Interestingly enough, the expected sources didn’t lead the way for the Nuggets when it came to their ball movement. In fact, Murray (10 assists) and Torrey Craig (four assists) impressed in that regard, while Millsap and Morris paced the second unit with a combined eight assists. When Denver’s offense is playing in a rhythm and attacking the way it wants to, it is a difficult assignment for any team in the league.

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