Denver Nuggets 122, Los Angeles Lakers 105: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets held a 12-point lead against the Lakers heading into halftime for the second straight game between the two teams. Denver made sure it finished the job this time, securing an assured 122-105 victory at Ball Arena.

Nikola Jokić continued his brilliance with his sixth triple-double, putting up 23 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists against the defending champions. LeBron James almost had a triple-double of his own to lead the Lakers, finishing the night with 22 points, 10 boards, and nine assists.

 “I thought our defense, overall, was really good tonight. Obviously, there were definitely some things that we could clean up, but they are a potent offensive team," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "The biggest thing for me, was our game in L.A. [Los Angeles], where they just destroyed us in the second half, our offense had a lot to do with that. I mean, we had turnovers and a lack of execution. Against the No. 1 defense in the NBA, to put up 122 points [is impressive]." 

The Nuggets finished their four-game homestand with a three-game win streak and will now start their East Coast trip with a visit to the Celtics (5 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).

Here are the takeaways:

Joker wins Round Two of MVP candidates battle

If James won the first battle between the two NBA superstars, Jokić certainly won the rematch as the center dropped one of his best performances of the season. That is noteworthy considering it’s a campaign where he dropped 50 points and seemingly every night never ceases to amaze with his outings.

Similar to the win against the Thunder, Jokić was dominant on the scoring end in the first half before focusing on facilitating in the second. He dropped all of his 23 points in the opening 24 minutes. While he was 0-for-3 in the second half, he was equally as impactful in his final 14 minutes on the court. The Serbian would collect seven boards and assist on five field goals in that stretch. He was also effective once again in setting key screens and providing leadership on several big plays down the stretch.

"It just speaks to how he can impact a game in so many ways," Malone said. "That's what you love about him...That's why he is an obvious MVP candidate at this juncture of the season" 

Jamal continues ascent

After slumping in the Nuggets’ 1-3 stretch between Jan. 31 through Feb. 8, Murray’s resurgent play is a big reason why Denver has secured two big back-to-back wins against Oklahoma City and Los Angeles. On Sunday night in a primetime nationally-televised contest, the Nuggets’ lead guard was electric against the Lakers.

"We just had fun. It's kind of hard to build your own energy with no fans and everything like that, but there are ups and downs throughout the game. But it felt like today was a well-rounded game from everybody," Murray said. "We made a couple mistakes here and there, but we didn't let that affect us." 

Murray started 2 of 5 for five in the first quarter but picked up momentum with each successive quarter. The 23-year-old would proceed to drop 17 of his game-high 25 in the second and third quarters. Equally as impressive was the swagger showed by Murray. On one play, he did a euro step to get past a stout defender in Markieff Morris. He’d follow that up with one of his top plays of the season, and up and under layup over James in the third quarter. This was very reminiscent of the stunning run he had in the bubble.

Bench rises to the occasion

Zeke Nnaji’s confidence is rising and it is paying dividends for the Nuggets. The rookie big man finished the contest with four threes on the night en route to 16 points to go along with three boards. When Nnaji is connecting on threes as he did on Sunday, where he hit 4 of 5, it adds another dimension to the Nuggets’ attack. It forces opposing defenses to account for his floor spacing ability. If Nnaji can continue to improve, he could make a case for being a part of Malone’s rotation earlier than expected.

"Zeke has come out these last couple games, shot the ball lights-out and playing really well for us," Malone said. 

"He is shooting the ball really well. That is something we need," Jokić said. "He was really good, defensively. He is still learning, he is still a rookie, but I think we can help him a lot when we play together.” 

More importantly, this was a big bounce back for a bench unit that was outscored 34-16 by the Thunder Friday. The bench was also critical considering how the last game against the Lakers unraveled with the second unit being largely contained by Los Angeles. With Monte Morris promoted to the starting lineup due to Will Barton III’s absence (personal reasons), it was fair to wonder if the group would have more issues Sunday. Instead, it was a game-changer for Denver, sparked by Facundo Campazzo’s energy.

The Argentine was a sparkplug for the Nuggets, coming off the bench to score 15 points and add another four dimes and two steals. When Campazzo arrived in the NBA last November, he discussed the desire to prove himself against the league’s best. He showed out in a big way against the league’s defending champions. His play, along with Nnaji’s offensive output and R.J. Hampton’s effort on defense, was a big reason why the Nuggets bench held its own against Los Angeles this time around.

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