Lakers seek sixth straight win, face red-hot Nuggets

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James has been dominating the league for 20 seasons, including this year as his Los Angeles Lakers struggle to stay in the Western Conference playoff race.

James is not only chasing another postseason run, he is also chasing history. James is second on the NBA’s career scoring list, 422 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and is projected to pass the Hall of Fame center next month.

However, he won’t be able to cut into that gap when Los Angeles plays at the Denver Nuggets on Monday night in a clash of teams on a roll. James was ruled out with ankle soreness hours before tipoff.

The Lakers have won five in a row after pulling out a 136-134 victory at Sacramento on Saturday night. They’ve put together a season-long streak without Anthony Davis, who has been out with a right foot injury since a 126-108 win over Denver on Dec. 16.

Los Angeles has done it with the usual production by James that has inspired contributions from others. In the win over the Kings, four players scored 20 or more points, including a season-high 29 points on 12-of-14 shooting to go with 14 rebounds from Thomas Bryant, who has stepped up with Davis hurt.

The winning streak has vaulted the Lakers within two games of the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

“Just trying to figure it out and just trying to play for one another and not give in,” James said. “We don’t really care what everybody else says about our ballclub or what’s going on on the outside. We just want to play the game. When you play the game the right way, I think the basketball gods kind of give back to you.”

One guy playing the right way is Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. The winner of the last two MVP awards is playing even better this season. He is averaging 25.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists, and has a league-best 10 triple-doubles.

He has averaged a triple-double since late November and has led Denver to 12 wins in the last 15 games to sit atop the Western Conference.

“I think Nikola could win the next five MVPs,” teammate Michael Porter Jr. said Sunday. “Hopefully the voters don’t get tired of giving it to who I think is the best player in the world.”

It’s not just his teammates that think he is deserving of another MVP. After he had 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a 121-108 win over visiting Cleveland on Friday night, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said Jokic “looks like he’s on the way to potentially a third MVP.”

The difference in this campaign is Jokic is surrounded by more talent. Jamal Murray and Porter are healthy and Denver added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown and Christian Braun to the rotation.

Murray has started to look like he is fully recovered from tearing his left ACL nearly two years ago, and he is feeling that, too. Hesitation has been replaced by confidence and he is playing more freely — and played in back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday.

“For the most part, I’m just playing out there,” Murray said.

–Field Level Media

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