Nikola Jokic, Nuggets Crush Anthony Davis and the LeBron James-Less Lakers

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIDecember 23, 2019

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis is fouled as he shoots between Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., left, and center Mason Plumlee during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)
Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets won their sixth straight game by squashing the Los Angeles Lakers 128-104 at Staples Center on Sunday night.

The Lakers were without LeBron James, whom head coach Frank Vogel disclosed suffered a thoracic muscle strain against Indiana on Tuesday but played through the injury on Thursday in Milwaukee. Kyle Kuzma, out since Dec. 8 with an ankle injury, returned for L.A.

L.A.'s offense was mostly stagnant without James. Vogel rolled with a makeshift starting five featuring All-Star forward Anthony Davis, center JaVale McGee, guard Avery Bradley, guard Rajon Rondo and guard Danny Green. It marked Rondo's first start of the season.

Davis posted his fifth consecutive double-double, but the only other Laker to score in double digits was Kuzma.

Denver contrastingly showcased effective depth with six double-digit scorers.

The Nuggets improved to 20-8 and second-place position in the Western Conference.

L.A. fell to 24-6, riding a three-game losing streak. However, the Lakers are still sitting pretty atop the Western Conference entering their matchup with the crosstown-rival Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas Day.

     

Notable Stats

DEN F Paul Millsap: 21 points, 1 rebound

DEN G Gary Harris: 19 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, 4 steals

DEN C Nikola Jokic: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

DEN G Will Barton: 14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals

LAL F Anthony Davis: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 blocks

LAL F Kyle Kuzma: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks

LAL G Rajon Rondo: 5 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals

     

Nuggets' Depth Overwhelms Short-Handed Lakers

Millsap was considered questionable for this game with a left knee contusion, but the 34-year-old forward's performance left no doubt:

Millsap carried the Nuggets in place of their usual leaders. Jokic went from the 2:39 mark in the first quarter to 3:40 mark in the third without scoring a point. Jamal Murray, the team's leading scorer (17.9 points per game) entering Sunday, was held to just six points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Murray was still effective as an outlet, though, as one of five Nuggets with a team-high five assists:

The Nuggets bench picked up some slack, too, with Malik Beasley (16 points) and Mason Plumlee (10 points) leading the way for the reserves:

All of that is before mentioning Barton's double-double or Harris' game-high four steals alongside 19 points on 70 percent shooting from the field.

A 24-point win over the Lakers would seem improbable for Denver on the surface, but the Nuggets used their depth to compensate for lacking in star power what L.A. has in Davis and James. As a result, they secured a statement win over the best in the West and their best start in franchise history, per The Athletic's Nick Kosmider.

     

Anthony Davis Struggles to Carry Lakers Without LeBron

The Lakers lost 105-102 to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. James played, but Davis missed the contest with a sprained right ankle.

The inverse was true against the Nuggets, but the result was the same.

L.A. looks like the favorite to win it all when Davis and James are on the floor together. When it's either-or, however, the Lakers look vulnerable.

Aside from an obvious lack of scoring, the Lakers also finished the night with 19 turnovers compared to 18 assists. The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 22-9 in fast break points and 62-56 in the paint.

Kuzma was the lone bright spot outside of Davis:

Kuzma also admitted that there's no such thing as replacing James:

This was the Lakers' first time playing without James this season, and it showed. In the grand scheme, this loss won't make or break L.A. Managing James' health in December so he and Davis are ready to lead the team in the postseason is the priority.

     

What's Next?

The Nuggets will quickly travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns on Monday night.

The Lakers will clash with the Clippers in a Western Conference heavyweight battle Christmas Day.

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