The Lakers have been underwhelming to watch to say the least since the league’s restart in the Orlando Bubble. With the exception of the first game against their crosstown rival Clippers, and their #1 seed clinching game against the Jazz, their play has been uninspired. Since guaranteeing the 1st seed, the games did not matter much, so it was understandable to a degree. Although it did give reason for concern. These Champion hopeful Lakers, especially Danny Green, at times seemed like they could not make a shot. Yes, health is the most important factor when it comes to making it deep into the playoffs, but you do not want to enter the postseason without a sense of rhythm. You do not want losing habits to carry over. These losing habits seemed to be compounding as the Lebrongeles Lakers entered last night’s contest on a 3 game losing streak.
Last night’s game saw the favorites to win it all looking very much like the team we saw dominate for most of the season prior to the shutdown. They came out with the focus that they had been lacking and had a good first quarter led by Anthony Davis making his first five shots. Their opponent, the Denver Nuggets, were able to keep it close with the terrific play of Michael Porter Jr. who seemed like he could not miss. He ended the game perfect from the field including 3-3 from the 3 point line. LA looked to have gotten back into form and ended the quarter with a 6 point lead. Their ball movement was great having assists on most of their made baskets. Their cuts were crisp leading to open shots, McGee and Davis made their presence felt under the rim with offensive rebounds. It was probably their best quarter of play since entering the bubble.
The second quarter saw the Nuggets get back into the game with the play of their bench. They started off with a run and took a lead before Coach Vogel called timeout for them to regroup. The benches of the two teams were about equal in production through the first half, but Denver’s reserves ended up outplaying LA’s. Just about doubling their point production. Denver’s Bol Bol, son of NBA legend Manute Bol, looked great. For being 7’2 he has the handles of a guard and can shoot it well from the outside. He looks to have the makings of a solid NBA player. There are not many players that tall in the history of the game that look that smooth dribbling and shooting. It was a close game throughout, each team never leading by more than 7 points.
The back and forth between the two teams carried over into the second half with neither team really getting an edge over the other. The game was a bit of an odd one in a lot of ways in that Lebron only got 1 rebound, An oddity in that he has only done that 3 times in his illustrious 16 year career. Another peculiarity was Dwight Howard finished with a higher free throw percentage than Anthony Davis. Howard hit 4 out of 5 where Davis shot 9 out of 12. Davis did shoot 7 more than Dwight yes, but it was still strange to see. Davis is terrific from the line so him missing three was weird, where Howard has a long history of struggling from there. There was not a whole lot of defense played in the game on either side, at times it looked like an All-Star game.
The real excitement came down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Denver’s coach Malone elected to sit his starters- including MVP caliber NIkola Jokic and budding star Jamal Murray and go with his bench who played well enough to have the game tied at 121 with only 5 seconds to go. However with the ball and 4.8 seconds to go Vogel called timeout and drew up a play that saw the ball kicked out to Kyle Kuzma who sunk a 3 from the wing right in the face of the 7’2 Bol Bol. Calling “GAME” with all the swagger of a true superstar. It left the Nuggs with less than a second to score a 3 to tie, which they failed to do and lost the game.
Los Angeles looked to have gotten their groove back for the most part which should put the fans who were about to hit the panic button minds at ease for the most part. Although the lack of defense, and the Lakers’ starters seeming to struggle to pull away from the other team’s bench players should give cause for some lingering concern. The Nuggets bench does have quality players, yes, but there is no reason LA should have let it be that close that late in the game with Lebron on the floor.
One positive that can definitely be taken from this game is that LA learned that they can count on Kuzma in the clutch. He got the start in place of KCP and played like he had no intention of going back to the bench scoring 25 points on 11 out 16 shooting. It should do loads for his confidence with the best player in the game having that much faith in him to bring it home. The Lakers need that third star with ice water in his veins to make plays when one or both of the others are having off nights if they are going win it all, and it looks like Kuz is that guy. Lebron and AD have had a history of folding in the fourth quarter, but they’ve found a cold blooded killer with no fear of the moment who they can count on with the game on the line in #0.
The Lakers final regular season game will be Thursday morning against the already eliminated Sacramento Kings, but we will see who Vogel will actually let play since the game really means close to nothing. You want to end on a winning note, but you do not risk injury on a meaningless game. Lebron and AD may play, but probably in limited minutes.