Denver Nuggets 96, Los Angeles Lakers 105: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

Despite falling behind on the boards early in the game, the Denver Nuggets fought until the final minute of their 105-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver’s defense put up an admirable performance, but Los Angeles capitalized on second-chance opportunities to win the first meeting of the 2019-20 season between the two teams.

"We struggled to make shots," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "I thought we were playing aggressive and attacking downhill, but we struggled to finish at times."

Both squads traded runs throughout the first quarter, with Los Angeles using hot 3-point shooting and a rebounding advantage to take a 28-24 lead. LeBron James finished with 11 points in the quarter, while the Lakers shot 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and outrebounded Denver 17-7. The Nuggets forced six turnovers in the first quarter, which kept them in the game.

Although the second quarter was a back-and-forth affair in the opening minutes, the Lakers were able to maintain their lead as a result of their continued edge on the glass. Los Angeles closed the half on a 19-10 run and took a 60-49 lead into the break. The Lakers doubled up the Nuggets on the boards with a 32-16 advantage and held a 32-20 advantage in points in the paint at the half. Both teams struggled from deep in the first half, as the Lakers connected on 5 of 17 3-pointers, while Denver shot 3 of 14 from deep.

The Nuggets came out firing in the second half, using a 15-4 run to tie the game within the first four minutes of the third quarter. Will Barton III and Gary Harris each hit 3-pointers during the run as Denver’s defense forced two turnovers on the other end of the floor. Although Denver was able to take a brief 72-71 lead, the combination of James and Anthony Davis took over in a quick 7-0 Lakers spurt to give them the lead. Los Angeles extended its lead down the stretch of the quarter and took an 84-76 advantage into the final quarter.

The Lakers outscored Denver by four points in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to withstand the early comeback attempt and increase their lead back to 10 points. However, the Nuggets continued to fight and used a 14-5 run to get within one point with a little over two minutes remaining. The Lakers responded and used a late 6-0 run to escape with the win.

"I thought our defense was pretty good (down the stretch)," Malone said. "In that fourth quarter our defense was pretty good, we held them to 21 points, which for that team is pretty good."

Here are three takeaways from Denver’s loss:

A big deficit on the boards was hard to overcome

Regardless of opponent, it is hard to win in the NBA when you are outrebounded 56-35, which happened to the Nuggets on Tuesday. The Lakers tend to play lineups with plenty of size, as their starting lineup includes Anthony Davis at power forward next to a traditional center (in this case JaVale McGee).

"You can talk about it and remind them (the players) about it (the rebounding advantage), but that was one of the differences in the game," Malone said. "You can play good defense but if you don't finish it with a rebound, it will be a long night."

It was a team effort on the boards for the Lakers in Tuesday’s game, as they had six players with at least six rebounds. The Nuggets are one of the better rebounding teams in the league but didn’t have an answer for Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Denver’s offense couldn’t find its footing

In what has become a theme throughout the first 18 games of the season, the Nuggets weren’t able to muster enough offense when they needed it most on Tuesday. Denver shot just 20.7 percent from beyond the arc and 40.7 percent overall from the field.

"We're an 18th-ranked offense right now because from the field, the three and the foul line, we're below average," Malone said. "That's the bottom line. No one is trying to miss shots."

While Jamal Murray (22 points on 8-of-17 shooting) and Paul Millsap (21 points on 8-of-14 shooting) had effective nights on that end of the floor, the supporting cast wasn’t able to knockdown enough shots to challenge the Lakers’ defense. Denver finished the game with a 94.1 offensive rating, which ranked in the 10th percentile.

An up-and-down night for the defense

Denver’s defense had some bright spots on Tuesday, but also struggled in several crucial components of the game. The Nuggets forced 16 turnovers and held the Lakers to 7-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc, which helped keep them in the game despite their own shooting struggles. Los Angeles finished with a 104.0 offensive rating, well below their offensive rating over the course of the season.

However, Los Angeles grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, 52 points in the paint and were very effective in transition, scoring 22 fast-break points. Although Denver’s initial defense was solid, there were simply too many second-chance opportunities for Los Angeles.


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