LeBron James Leads 2nd-Half Surge as Lakers Top Nikola Jokic, Nuggets 114-93February 5, 2021
The Los Angeles Lakers proved capable of handling one of their top Western Conference challengers on Thursday, defeating the Denver Nuggets, 114-93, at Staples Center.
It's the Nuggets' (12-9) second loss in three games after the team won five straight. Meanwhile, the Lakers (17-6) have now won three in a row and could see that streak begin to surge quickly with their next three games coming against teams under .500
LeBron James outshined MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, notching a triple-double to ensure the Lakers sealed the win.
That moved L.A. back into a tie for first place in the Pacific Division with the Los Angeles Clippers as the crosstown rivals continue fighting for separation in the standings.
LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers: 27 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists
Dennis Schroder, PG, Los Angeles Lakers: 21 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets: 13 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists
Jamal Murray, PG, Denver Nuggets: 20 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds
LeBron James Takes Over Again
Nikola Jokic arrived on the floor looking to make an MVP statement in a nationally televised contest against the reigning champions—who beat them in the Western Conference Finals last season.
This should've been Jokic's night to stand out. To show that he could operate as the center of attention and facilitate a winning game plan.
He quickly became an afterthought thanks to the play of LeBron James.
In his 18th year, James overshadowed everyone else on the court with some of the best passing and playmaking he's shown this season. It wasn't just that he finished with 10 assists. It was that each one seemed to top the last.
Whether it was a near-full-court chest pass to Montrezl Harrell for an easy dunk or a backdoor pass for an open layup, James kept finding his teammates and created for himself when he couldn't.
A fadeaway jumper after backing down Micheal Porter Jr. only reminded the Nuggets how deep his bag of tricks goes.
This was the type of night that reminds NBA fans James could win MVP every year and it wouldn't necessarily be the wrong decision. Or as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green put it: James just keeps getting better.
That was Denver's doom on Thursday. James sparked a 15-0 run on offense to close out the third quarter and take back the lead, and his defense kept the Nuggets from making a late push in the fourth quarter.
It didn't matter if Jokic was supposed to be the star. Not when James continues to prove as versatile and dangerous as ever.
How The Lakers Limited Jokic
Los Angeles was never going to keep Jokic quiet all night, but its plan to contain him for most of the game worked exceedingly well.
It just might not be easily replicable across the league.
Whereas the Lakers relied on the likes of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee during their postseason series last year, neither remain on the roster anymore. Instead, the job of containing Jokic primarily fell to Marc Gasol and Harrell with Anthony Davis able to erase any defensive lapses—just how head coach Frank Vogel wanted it.
"We always have the ability to mix pitches and put AD on him," Vogel told reporters pregame. "Nobody can really slow Joker down the way he's playing."
The Lakers came as close as anyone else to doing so as Jokic had just 11 points midway through the fourth quarter. Thursday marked the fewest points the Nuggets star has scored all season.
That's not to say Denver didn't have a shot at winning this one.
The Nuggets out-rebounded L.A. 43-39, including a 16-7 edge on offensive boards, to go with 19 points off turnovers. Coupled with Los Angeles shooting a meager 33.3 percent from three-point range, it seemed Denver should've been able to take charge.
With Jokic stymied, that wasn't possible. It turns out the key to defeating him is double-teaming him with an all-world player like Davis—which explains why many haven't been able to do it.
The Lakers have four home games coming up starting with a Saturday night showdown against the Detroit Pistons at 10 p.m. ET. Denver will wrap up a two-game road trip on Saturday against the Sacramento Kings at 5 p.m. ET on NBA TV.