The play-in tournament still lingers, but the Los Angeles Lakers at least stopped their downward tumble with a much-needed win.
Los Angeles defeated the Denver Nuggets 93-89 in Monday's Western Conference showdown at Staples Center. Anthony Davis led the way in LeBron James' absence for the victors, who improved to 37-28 and bounced back from their three-game losing streak and 1-6 mark in the previous seven.
A solid showing from Nikola Jokic was not enough for the Nuggets, who fell to 43-22 as their five-game winning streak came to an end.
Notable Player Stats
- Anthony Davis, F, LAL: 25 PTS, 7 REB, 3 BLK
- Marc Gasol, C, LAL: 10 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST, 3-of-4 3PT
- Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 32 PTS, 9 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK
- Michael Porter Jr., F, DEN: 19 PTS, 6 REB, 1 STL
AD, Lakers Avoid Brutal Collapse
Everything looked to be coming up perfectly for the Lakers on Monday outside of the fact that LeBron (ankle) and Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocols) were not on the floor.
The Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Atlanta Hawks, bolstering Los Angeles' chances in the race to avoid the play-in tournament. Davis also looked as smooth as he has since returning from his calf and Achilles injury that kept him out for more than two months while staking the Lakers to a halftime lead.
Denver had no answer for him on the blocks, and he also protected the rim on the defensive side.
Throw in a notable performance from the league's top-rated defense and Marc Gasol going into takeover mode for a stretch when Andre Drummond dealt with foul trouble with multiple threes and impressive outlet passes, and the Lakers were on cruise control with a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
And then the Nuggets came storming back with Jokic hitting mid-range shots and floaters and even had a chance to take the lead on a Michael Porter Jr. three that rimmed out with just more than a minute remaining.
The Lakers also benefited from a questionable offensive foul on Facundo Campazzo that wiped out a Porter three, and Davis made a clutch shot in the lane with 41 seconds left to push the lead back to four.
Fittingly, he also blocked Campazzo's three to clinch the win and end the Lakers' losing streak in dramatic fashion.
Denver's Offense Goes Missing for Too Long
It would have been easy for the Nuggets to fold after Jamal Murray was lost for the season on April 12's loss to the Golden State Warriors.
After all, they are in the middle of a daunting Western Conference with a number of championship contenders and lost their playmaking guard. Instead, they entered Monday's contest with a 9-1 record since the setback thanks largely to the MVP-level play of Jokic and Porter's ascension as a legitimate second option.
That was anything but the case in the early going, as the Lakers' wing defenders cut off Porter's penetration and pressed into his space to prevent him from any clean looks.
Jokic also struggled from the field as the visitors fell behind by intermission, although JaVale McGee provided a spark off the bench to keep the Nuggets within striking distance when so many others were having trouble against Los Angeles' stout defense.
The Lakers weren't the only ones to play solid defense, as Denver relied on its own ability on that end to stay close with Campazzo and Aaron Gordon spearheading the effort with five steals and four blocks, respectively.
Still, the short-handed offense without Murray, Will Barton and Monte Morris remained stagnant for extended stretches and became even more of an issue when PJ Dozier went down with an injury.
The Nuggets shot just 25 percent from deep, turned it over 12 times and didn't score more than 24 points in a single quarter. Even with a late push, that simply wasn't going to cut it against the defending champions.
The Nuggets host the New York Knicks on Wednesday, while the Lakers are at the L.A. Clippers on Thursday.