0-3 Lakers Look For Victory Against Nuggets

Lakers are one of three teams (Kings and Magic also have not scratched as of yet) that are still winless in this young season.

The Los Angeles Lakers are off to an 0-3 start. If you can believe it, the last time the Lakers had that start was in the 2018-19 season, which would be LeBron James’s first season with the Lakers.

But this 0-3 record is much different than that 2018-19 season. Sure, the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs that season, either, but there was more optimism that time. They had turned it around by Christmas with a 20-14 record before James suffered a groin injury. LeBron would miss 17 straight games (the Lakers would be 6-11 in that span) and it was enough to throw the Lakers into a loop and out of the playoffs altogether.

This 0-3 beginning has a lot more urgency. The main core of the Lakers didn’t change much (namely LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook) and this was a team that went 33-49 last season. Yes, they were mostly ravaged with injuries but when the threesome were all on the court together, they weren’t much better (an 11-10 clip in 21 games last season).

The main concern is that, unbelievably, they’re an even worse offensive team. The Lakers are dead last in offensive rating (97.2 points per 100 possessions, according to If lives were on the line every time the Lakers shot from the arc, there would be many bodies on the floor. It’s been documented all around the place but the Lakers are an atrocious (I feel like I’m being kind here) 25 for 118 from three. That is a percentage of .212 (even I’ve scored higher than that in Science quizzes in high school). The league average is .355.

Horrifying, isn’t it?

However, the Lakers have been shockingly great defensively. Yes, it helps to have a healthy all-world defender in Davis. LeBron can still get it done from time to time. But most of the roster were not known to be stoppers. For all the grief Russell Westbrook has gotten, he’s been very active on that end. Lonnie Walker IV has also been very good. Guys like Troy Brown, Austin Reaves, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and, of course, Patrick Beverley have made some crisp rotations and great anticipation plays to help the Lakers be second in defensive rating (allowing 103.4 points per 100 possessions).

The Lakers could easily be 2-1 but their inability to put the ball in the basket (especially from the perimeter) have cost them games against the Clippers and the Blazers. Shot selection played a part in it, too (witness the closing minutes against Portland). However, their third quarter against Portland was easily the best 12 minutes of the season so far for L.A. It was because of their suffocating defense and shots that were put up in rhythm. They notably went 5 for 13 from three (.385) in that stanza. They need more of that kind of play.

Speaking of shot selection, Russell Westbrook was heavily criticized for his two-for-one jumper with about 30 seconds left and the Lakers up by one. He may not suit up against their opponents on Wednesday because of a sore hamstring. As of this writing, he is doubtful and not out just yet so there hasn’t been a replacement named. Reaves or Brown could start in his place with Dennis Schröder still out with an injury.

Oct 20, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) and coach Darvin Ham react in the first half against the LA Clippers at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As for those aforementioned opponents, the Denver Nuggets host the Lakers Wednesday night. They’ve had an uneven start so far with Utah upsetting them in their opener, victories against the Warriors and the Thunder, and then a blowout loss against the Blazers. The common theme is that they have allowed 117 or more points in all four games they’ve played. They’re a bad bad defensive team as they are third worst in defensive rating (121.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), worst in field goal percentage in the restricted area (.780), and worst in field goal percentage allowed overall (.500). They were in the middle of the road last season and they tried to improve on that by adding ex-Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and former Net Bruce Brown. Michael Porter, Jr. has showed some flashes on defense, too, as he continues to rise in the ranks of the league. But so far, they’ve been erratic on that end of the ball.

The good news is that they have two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who is nearly averaging a triple-double (20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 9.5 assists). Porter, who is trying to come back from a back injury that held him out for all but 9 games last season, is shooting the ball well as he is shooting a .500 clip from three in 8 attempts per game (he’s averaging 18.0 PPG so far). Jamal Murray is also trying to bounce back from a devastating knee injury that occurred at the end of the 2020-21 season. The staff is bringing him along slowly; he did not play in the first game of a back-to-back a few days ago. Reintegrating both stars will take some time and that’s certainly a reason why the Nuggets are 2-2. (EDIT: Michael Porter, Jr. will now miss this game due to injury management.)

But the Lakers will also have to contend with the athletic Aaron Gordon, the exciting Bones Hyland, and the aforementioned acquisitions KCP and Bruce Brown. But of course, the Nuggets revolve around Jokic, a calamitous and crafty playmaker that can beat anyone a thousand ways. Whether he’s at the post or the perimeter, he’ll make the correct pass or shot. There’s a reason he’s been the Most Valuable Player for two seasons running.

Sure, the Nuggets’ defense has been extremely porous but they’re still dangerous offensively (first in field goal percentage and second in three-point field goal percentage). It’ll certainly be a challenge for the Lakers defense and it’ll be an interesting chess game between one of the worst offenses in the league and one of the worst defenses. Or one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses. You know what I mean.

A key match-up that I’m looking at is between Davis and Jokic. Jokic has gotten the better of him since their 2020 Western Conference Finals match-up; in four games against each other, Jokic is averaging 26.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists compared to Davis’s 20.3 points, 7.3 boards, and 3.0 dimes. Davis only played in one of the three games against Denver last season. Denver took the season series, 2-1, but the Lakers did take the overtime win against them in their season finale where Austin Reaves memorably had a 31-16-10 triple-double.

I don’t need to say it but I will, anyway; this is a must-win for the Lakers. What’s even worse than 0-3? 0-4. And it could turn into 0-5 and 0-6 in a blink of an eye. I can’t say that I expected them to be championship contenders this season since they decided to stay the course but right now, this is becoming worse than we thought possible.

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