The Los Angeles Lakers take on the Denver Nuggets, and both teams battle for middle-of-the-pack supremacy, as the Lakers sit two-and-a-half games behind the Nuggets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles comes into the game after two straight losses—a sloppy mess against the Philadelphia 76ers and a blowout turned nail-biter against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers have struggled to reach and stay at .500 for the duration of the season.
Denver was able to beat the Clippers in its most recent victory, ending Los Angeles' 18-game winning streak, but its most recent game ended in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Obviously, both of these teams are very capable of being solid, dangerous playoff teams, but they are struggling to find their identity early on in 2013.
Time: 9:30 p.m. EST
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (15-17), Denver Nuggets (19-16)
Gambling Line: N/A
Injury Report: Steve Blake, Out (Abdominal Surgery), Chris Duhon, Probable (Back Spasms), Dwight Howard, Questionable (Shoulder), Wilson Chandler, Out (Hip), Julyan Stone, Out (Hip)
Key Storyline: Los Angeles' Struggles
There's a lot to talk about surrounding this Denver Nuggets team, but unfortunately for a big hunk of the rest of the league, most of the time they play the Lakers they'll end up being overshadowed as far as media coverage goes.
While Denver sees Andre Iguodala start to round into shape in its lineup, JaVale McGee alternate between terrific and questionable games and Danilo Gallinari finally start to hit three-pointers, the Lakers are below .500, so that has to be mentioned.
Los Angeles has had an endless number of chances to turn the corner, but it has continually tripped on winnable games, be it against the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers or even its most recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Between stagnant offense, the never-ending ebb and flow between Kobe Bryant isolation and Steve Nash ball movement, Dwight Howard's continually sore back, Pau Gasol's poor season and the lack of a bench, there's always something there to trip the Lakers up.
It seems like every time they string together a few wins it feels like a turning point, but maybe this is just who they are. Maybe it is a team that's going to hang around the bottom of the playoff picture before squeaking its way in.
Only time will tell.
Key Matchup: Andre Iguodala vs. Kobe Bryant
With Andre Iguodala starting to have more games "on" than "off," he's starting to look like the guy the Nuggets traded for.
Not a player who can go out and score 25 points for them, but a guy who can efficiently put down 15 to 20 points, play solid perimeter defense and lead the team by example.
He's averaging 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 50.4 percent shooting since December 14, Denver's impressive, Iguodala-led win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, has been otherworldly this season. His 30.5 points per game is leading the league, and he's doing it all while shooting over 48 percent, a career high.
Yet the Lakers are losing, the criticism is piling on and fans are getting frustrated.
Part of the problem has been Kobe shooting so much, even though he's making so many of his shots.
He's got the opportunity to help his teammates out by playing as a part of the offense, creating a flow and not stopping the ball to play in isolation so often.
Even though he is playing so well, it's undeniable that he has been a bit of a problem for the Lakers this season. We'll see if that continues against the Nuggets.
X-Factors: Pau Gasol and JaVale McGee
When Gasol scores at least 13 points for the Lakers, the team is 9-3. Normally, I wouldn't put too much stock into stats that don't tell the entire story of a game, but I think this gives insight into what the Lakers are.
Historically speaking, it should be no problem for Gasol to end up with 13 points every night; this season is extremely different.
Whether he's forced to the perimeter because of a Dwight Howard clogged lane or just not making shots, a lot of the offensive flow depends on Gasol. It gets the defense collapsing, leading to plenty of opportunities for a kick back to the perimeter, or a back-door look at Howard.
On the other side, JaVale McGee is about as unpredictable as they come this season. As amazing as he was against the Lakers in the playoffs last year, he's been equally dreadful at times for the Nuggets.
Even though he's averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds on 57 percent shooting in just 19 minutes a game, he has yet to win the starting center spot. Simply put, that's because George Karl just can't trust him.
He has nights where he's incredibly, undeniably hot, but there are plenty of nights when he's the same old goofy JaVale we know and love.
Normally I'm far too confident in what the Lakers can do. I'm blinded by what they should be doing into picking them in a situation where they're simply overmatched.
This is not going to be one of those games.
They've split the series so far this season, with Denver getting the upper hand more recently.
It just seems that the Lakers are out of sorts. They still don't know exactly who or what they are and look to be in a pickle, especially if Dwight Howard doesn't play.
Look for another high-scoring affair, just as the last two were.
Denver 119, Los Angeles 104
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