Well, they made it twice.
The Lakers once again put it all together against the Denver Nuggets. And they did it with Anthony Davis leaving early, too, in a great team effort. It was Los Angeles 126, Denver 108.
Davis seemed to hurt his foot in this play. He did stay in the game for a bit, even getting treatment when he sat down. He eventually ended his night after halftime. And he’ll be getting looked at in the very near future. It’s a shame, too; he had 10 points in the first quarter but had difficulty holding on to passes when he came back in the second quarter.
It was the second quarter where the Nuggets threatened to run away first. The Lakers built a 9-point lead that quickly disappeared. Denver scored 10 straight as they took advantage of bad Russell Westbrook passes. Then Austin Reaves, as he has done so many times this season, caught fire and scored the next 10 points for Los Angeles.
Then LeBron James, who is turning 380 years old in a couple of weeks (38; same difference), did this to prove that age ain’t nothing but a number:
I couldn’t even do that in my dream. Or my dream’s dream.
Still, Denver once again had a chance to pull away. The Lakers went cold as the Nuggets built their lead to 79-67 early in the third quarter. We got so used to seeing bad third quarters in the last year so it’s easy to quit on the Lakers and turn off the TV/leave the arena by this point.
Los Angeles did counter, though, as Davis’s replacement, Thomas Bryant, gave them a boost of energy. He kept the Lakers within striking distance with some key buckets in the paint. Then the Lakers made their run at the end of the third; a Dennis Schröder three punctuated the third quarter run. Patrick Beverley followed it up with another three to start the fourth period to make it 13 unanswered points and a 96-88 cushion.
I had mentioned in the preview that maybe Max Christie should be given a shot. And he came through big early in the fourth with back-to-back three-pointers. The Nuggets would go a bit cold, either missing a basket or giving the ball away. Thomas Bryant then continued to provide more energy as he scored three straight buckets. Finally, LeBron James countered the Nuggets every time with a basket of his own three straight possessions. Then James stole the ball and his breakaway lay-up made it an 18-point lead with three and a half minutes to go. I know we’ve seen Lakers blow leads like this but the Nuggets decided to tap out and turned the game into garbage time. Lakers outscored Denver, 33-20, in the decisive fourth.
LeBron James scored his third straight 30-point game. It’s been mentioned before but at times, he can still be the best player on the court. Thomas Bryant was wonderful in replacing Davis; he went for 21 big points. Russell Westbrook scored his second triple-double of the season (15-11-12). Austin Reaves was big in the first half and he ended with 16. I even talked about Patrick Beverley needing to make teams pay and he did, scoring 10 points and taking a more proactive role on running the offense a bit (five assists for PatBev).
Denver was led by two-time reigning and defending MVP, Nikola Jokic, who had 25-11-8. He even had four steals. Jamal Murray continues to work his way back; he put in 23 points and had a couple of dunks to remind us his knees are doing fine. Aaron Gordon was their third-leading scorer with 17 points.
Davis being out led the Lakers bench to make up for his absence. That bench outscored Denver’s, 58-23. Bones Hyland particularly had trouble making shots, going 2 for 9 (5 points), and was a dreadful -24 when he was on the court. Both teams love to run but the Lakers scored more on the break, 28-20. And the Lakers outshot the Nuggets, .527 to .481. Not that the Nuggets shot badly but they cooled off when they needed to score.
The Lakers are 12-16 now while Denver had their three-game win streak snapped; they’re now at 17-11. As bad as the Lakers record looks at the moment, the Western Conference is extremely competitive. The fifth-ranked team, Sacramento Kings, are only four games above the Lakers, who are 12th in the West. The next few games aren’t the worst (Washington, at Phoenix, at Sacramento, Charlotte, and at Dallas for Christmas Day) so maybe they can make up a bit of ground in the next week or so.
But to stay competitive with the West, they’ll have to hope Anthony Davis is okay. Pray to all the gods that he is.