LOS ANGELES – The Nuggets and Lakers square off again on Tuesday night at Staples Center in a big game for Denver in its continued push to advance to the playoffs.
“They’re going to come out ready to play,” guard Gary Harris said. “They’re a great team at home. They play real good in this arena, and the last time we were here they blew us out. So, we’ve got to come back and try to get another win.”
The Nuggets begin the night in ninth place in the Western Conference in a three-way tie with the Jazz and Spurs. Due to the head-to-head-to-head tiebreaker, the Jazz currently occupy the eighth, and final spot in the West. Of course, there is a lot of basketball still to be played.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are looking for a little revenge after taking a 125-116 loss to the Nuggets last Friday at the Pepsi Center. Expect an emotionally-charged atmosphere at the Staples Center, which the Nuggets will have to block out to go about their business.
“We’ve just got to go out and play our game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, we’ll see what kind of personality the game takes on. And then you always have to be ready to react to however the game takes shape.
“But, I’m not going into this game worried about Jamal Murray vs. Lonzo Ball or Luke Walton. I’m going into the game worried about the Denver Nuggets trying to get a road win with 15 games to go. And that has to be our sole focus. We can’t get caught up in the small side of things. We have to keep an eye on the big picture.”
What do the Nuggets need to do give themselves a chance to win? Start with these things…
Keep Lonzo Ball off the glass: Lonzo Ball has been a much-improved player over the last few weeks of the regular season, and has enough impact on games. The Nuggets have a lot of control, however, of how much he is able to hurt them on the glass – in particular on the offensive glass. He had eight rebounds total, three on the offensive glass, two of which were tip-ins that resulted in buckets in last week’s meeting between the two teams. They were part of 12 Lakers offensive rebounds that led to 15 second chance points, which, as damaging as they were that night can be even more so when they get the crowd into the game and create momentum. Ball is one of the best rebounding point guards in the league. The Nuggets have to be mindful of getting him boxed out when shots go up.
Back away from Julius Randle: For as well as Julius Randle has played for the Lakers of late, he is still a developing jump shooter. Randle is making just 32 percent of his jump shots this season, and just 29 percent of his runners. So, the more the Nuggets can have Randle pulling up for jump shots or shooting on the move, the better chance they will have at holding his points and efficiency down.
Keep Jamal Murray in the groove: He’s averaged 21.0 points and 6.5 assists in the last two games. He had 22 points, eight assists and four steals in the last game against the Lakers. The key? His aggressiveness. Murray was 10-of-11 from the 3-point line, and that was as a result of his relentless attacking of the rim. If Murray is back in that space tonight, that bodes well for the Nuggets offense that needs consistent paint touches – some of that through dribble penetration – to operate efficiently and on schedule. Plus, the Nuggets are 12-5 when he scored 22 or more points. They are 4-1 this season when he scores over 30 points.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.