Nuggets seek bounce-back against skidding Lakers
Perhaps no team on the outside of the playoff picture gets more scrutiny and attention than the Los Angeles Lakers.
The New York Knicks had an 18-game losing streak earlier this season, but it wasn't as analyzed as what is going on with LeBron James & Co.
One reason - James hasn't been on a losing team since his rookie year. But in his first season with Los Angeles, James is not only unlikely to reach the NBA Finals for the ninth straight year, but his team is in serious danger of not making the playoffs at all.
The Lakers (30-34) are 5 1/2 games behind San Antonio for the eighth seed in the Western Conference entering Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets. They have lost nine of their last 12, including a crucial matchup against their Staples Center roommates, the Clippers, on Monday night.
Now they have to face one of the surprise teams in the West. The Lakers and Nuggets have split their two games this season, each winning at home, and both enter Wednesday's matchup in a downswing. Denver has lost three straight and is coming off a 104-103 loss at San Antonio on Monday that came down to the last possession.
The Nuggets have lost three straight for the third time this season, but they have always bounced back. After dropping four in a row and six of seven in November, they ripped off an 11-2 run. An early February losing streak was followed by five wins in a row.
Denver has weathered adversity before, and head coach Michael Malone is confident that can happen again.
"This is good for us," Malone said after Monday's loss. "As much as we hate to go through it - losing three in a row, this kind of failure - if we're willing to learn from it, can be a positive. Let's see what kind of fight we have, let's see what kind of resolve we have."
One of the Nuggets' issues is shaping a healthy roster. Since guards Gary Harris, Isaiah Thomas and forward Paul Millsap have returned, Denver has struggled to find some rhythm.
The Lakers' struggles began when James missed 18 games earlier this season, going 6-12. They have struggled to find consistency since, going 3-8 since he returned to the lineup full-time.
But James isn't the only one to miss time. Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, to name a few, have also been knocked out by injuries.
Ball hasn't played since Jan. 19, and Ingram was out Monday after experiencing pain in his right shoulder following the morning shootaround. Then in the fourth quarter, Kuzma left the game after rolling his right ankle. Kuzma won't play Wednesday, while Ingram is questionable.
"Haven't been part of a season with this (many) injuries to all of our key guys," James said after the game. "To big, big key guys."
The Nuggets won't feel sorry for them. They played long stretches of the season without their opening-night starting five. Saturday's loss to New Orleans was just the third time that lineup started a game this season.
Both teams want to turn things around when they play at Staples Center on Wednesday. For Denver, it means strengthening its hold on the No. 2 spot in the West ahead of a showdown at Golden State on Friday night.
For the Lakers, it means just staying alive for a chance to make the playoffs.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 6, 2019