The Los Angeles Lakers snapped their three-game losing streak with a 124-121 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Monday's Western Conference showdown at Walt Disney World Resort.
While Los Angeles is playing out the string after clinching the West's No. 1 seed, it still seemed to be sleepwalking toward the playoffs in recent efforts. Kyle Kuzma helped change that Monday with a game-winning three-pointer in the final second after PJ Dozier missed a potential go-ahead free throw.
Denver inexplicably went for two on the final possession after Kuzma's shot.
This loss was a significant blow to the Nuggets' chances of landing the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. They are now 1.5 games behind the L.A. Clippers with a head-to-head showdown looming.
Notable Player Stats
- LeBron James, F, LAL: 29 PTS, 12 AST, 2 BLK, 5-of-11 3PT
- Anthony Davis, F, LAL: 27 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL, 2 BLK
- Kyle Kuzma, F, LAL: 25 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 11-of-16 FG, 3-of-5 3PT
- Michael Porter Jr., F, DEN: 15 PTS, 4 REB, 6-of-6 FG, 3-of-3 3PT
- PJ Dozier, G, DEN: 18 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 5-of-7 FG, 2-of-2 3PT
- Jamal Murray, G, DEN: 14 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 6-of-10 FG
Lakers Flash Much-Needed Offense
Looking for sweeping takeaways from the Lakers in their seeding games is a tricky proposition.
On the one hand, they are not playing for anything and could simply be going through the motions. On the other hand, they have looked like anything but a championship contender on the offensive side.
Entering play, Los Angeles was last in the league in offensive rating since the season restarted at Walt Disney World Resort, per NBA.com. Some of that may be because the team is missing Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo as veteran role players, and it is fair to wonder about overall depth behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Fortunately for any worried Lakers fans, the offense looked much better Monday even before Kuzma's shot.
The Purple and Gold shot a blistering 55.6 percent from the field in the first half and didn't have a single turnover from a player outside of James and Davis in the opening 24 minutes. Dion Waiters also provided a spark off the bench by getting out in transition, flashing into space when the Nuggets focused on the two superstars and mixing in some outside shooting.
The stars had their say as well with James hitting multiple three-pointers, breaking out a no-look pass to Kuzma for a three and facilitating when the defense pushed up on his shot.
AD turned in his typical work on the blocks by finishing lobs and even mixing in a buzzer-beater putback at the half, but it was his ability to impact the game in a variety of ways that stood out. He created a number of turnovers with his interior defense and then drew defenders to the outside before blowing past them like a guard on the other end.
Monday's game didn't mean much for the Lakers, but they at least provided some reassurance on the offensive side.
Michael Porter Jr. Continues to Enjoy Bubble Life
Not missing a single shot through the first three quarters against the Western Conference's No. 1 seed is one way to draw attention.
That is exactly what Michael Porter Jr. did Monday, although he probably wasn't aggressive enough while shooting just six times from the field and three times from deep before spending the fourth on the bench.
The 6'10" Porter is a matchup nightmare with the size to unleash his smooth stroke over smaller defenders and the athleticism to get past bigger ones. It was more of the same for stretches after he averaged 29.3 points with four straight double-doubles in his previous four contests.
While Nikola Jokic is the constant in the middle for the Nuggets, the team's playoff ceiling likely depends on how well the supporting cast around him plays. After all, Jokic can't match the star power of duos such as James and Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and even Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
Denver will surely need someone like Porter, Jamal Murray or an unsung hero to thrive throughout a daunting playoff series in the West, and Porter has proved he can thrive in that role of late.
He may not have shot enough times Monday, but they were falling when he did.
The Nuggets face the Clippers in a key matchup Wednesday, while the Lakers finish their seeding-game schedule Thursday against the Sacramento Kings.