Game Report: Nuggets (3-4) defeat Lakers (4-6) 111 – 99

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors

Tonight’s Game Summary

The Lakers may have exceeded expectations tonight by keeping the game close, but it still wasn’t enough for the win.

Playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road and at a mile above sea level is a daunting task for any NBA team, but the Lakers battled hard for most of the night, and were trailing only 83-79 after three quarters. But then Denver opened up a 15-point lead in the final frame before finishing with a comfortable 12-point margin of victory.

Any thought the Lakers may have entertained of a fourth-quarter comeback was firmly swatted away – literally – by Denver center Timofey Mozgov. In the fourth quarter alone Mozgov recorded six points, two rebounds, and a very impressive four blocks – three of them against Pau Gasol, and one against Jordan Hill.

Mozgov finished the game with a career-high tying 23 points, evoking for Lakers’ fans the career highs the team has already given up this season to both Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Anthony Davis on the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Nuggets also got a strong game from Kenneth Faried, who earlier in the day had been the subject of trade rumors involving the New York Knicks. Just the possibility of becoming a Knick must have alarmed Faried, because he came out and played a great game, scoring 21 points on efficient shooting and grabbing 13 rebounds, thus re-affirming his value in front of Nuggets management.

The key stat of the game was likely points in the paint, where the Nuggets outperformed the Lakers by a dramatic 60-32 margin. The Nuggets also outperformed the Lakers in several other “energy” categories, such as rebounds, free throw attempts, and steals.

For the second game in a row, coach Mike D’Antoni went with the rather big starting line-up of Gasol, Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, and for the most part the first unit played well. This was especially true of Hill, who scored an efficient 18 points to go along with 15 rebounds, three blocks, and a steal. Of his 15 rebounds, eight were on the offensive end – a career high for Hill.

Blake recorded an impressive 15 points, 11 assists and six rebounds – in fact, it was the second time in two nights that Blake set the Lakers’ season high for assists in a game, having recorded 10 the previous night against the Pelicans. The more I watch Blake play this season, the more I realize how admirably he fills the roll that a healthy Steve Nash would be filling on this team. That Blake leads the team in minutes is testament to the fact that D’Antoni trusts him to run his offense.

Through ten games, Blake is now shooting 49% on three-pointers, which has equal value to a player shooting 74% on two-pointers – which no one ever does.

Wesley Johnson also deserves mention for doing a little bit of everything tonight. He recorded 10 points, five rebounds, five blocks, three steals and two assists for the game.

Pau Gasol had a team-high 25 points to go along with 12 rebounds, but it took him 27 shots to generate those 25 points, which most times will be too inefficient to deliver a win. Gasol’s shots were often quality attempts, though, and so it wasn’t necessarily a bad strategy.

Of the starters, only Jodie Meeks played poorly, as he uncharacteristically recorded three points, no rebounds, no assists, no steals, and no blocks in 27 minutes of play. Meeks has played so well this year, though, that he had definitely earned a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. (Which he played tonight, and no longer holds.)

Unfortunately for the Lakers, while the starting unit played well, the bench – which has been super this season – did not. The second five of Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams, Xavier Henry, Nick Young and Jordan Farmar scored just 29 points on 29% shooting. It was a particularly quiet night for Farmar, who recorded just one point, one rebound, and one assist in 14 minutes of floor time.

There is usually a great Lakers’ play that I like to draw attention to in this space, but tonight I will highlight a rather disappointing play, in which Gasol, upset at not having received a pass from Blake, actually stopped playing basketball for three full seconds, despite being in the middle of the action.

The Lakers were leading 14-8 after four minutes and 30 seconds on the strength of Blake’s seven points, which he had generated on 3 of 4 shooting. Blake then penetrated the paint and took an open jump shot from the elbow, which he missed. Meanwhile, whether Blake saw him or not, Gasol had been wide open a little closer to the hoop, and had his hands out ready to accept the pass, which never came.

What was remarkable is what happened next.

When Blake launched his shot, instead of re-positioning himself for a potential offensive rebound – or hustling back to set up defensively – Gasol remained planted, facing Blake, with his hands out to catch the pass that had long since turned into a shot. And when the shot missed, instead of making any attempt at the rebound, Gasol continued to stand there, with his hands ready to accept the phantom pass, even after the Nuggets had grabbed the rebound and were headed down-court.

In total, Gasol held his pose for three full seconds after Blake had released his shot, clearly pissed at Blake for not having passed him the ball. The two of them must have had a subsequent conversation, because Gasol ended the night with a very Kobe-like 27 field goal attempts.

As a final note, if it seems to you that the Lakers have been playing a lot of basketball lately, then you’re correct. The team has now played in a league-high 10 games, and by comparison the Nuggets have played in only seven.

The Lakers busy schedule continues on Friday and again on Sunday, with home games against Memphis and Detroit, before the schedule grants them four full days of well-deserved rest.

It would not be unrealistic to expect the Lakers to win these next two games at home, as neither the Grizzlies nor Pistons are playing well. And, if the Lakers do manage to win both games, then they can head into their extended break satisfied that – despite a tough schedule – they had evened their record at 6-6.

Lakers’ Player of the Game

For the second game in a row, the Player of the Game was Jordan Hill. After recording 21 points and 11 rebounds 24 hours earlier, Hill tonight recorded 18 points (6-11 FG, 6-6 FT) and 15 rebounds, as well as three blocks and a steal. Hill accomplished this in 30 minutes of floor time, and despite playing the fourth quarter with five fouls.

Next Game

Friday, November 15 at 7:30 p.m. PST vs. the Memphis Grizzlies

This is an article by Craig Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevenashchroni

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