Lakers, Nuggets meet in showdown before break

NBA
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There was plenty of movement around the NBA at the trade deadline, but the Los Angeles Lakers stood pat.

The Western Conference leaders didn’t make a deal, preferring to go with the roster they have. The Denver Nuggets, meanwhile, made a couple of deals and are still working their new players into the rotation.

They may get more action when Denver plays host to Los Angeles on Wednesday night in a battle of two of the top teams in the West.

It is the third of four meetings between the teams, with each one grabbing a road win in the first two games. Denver routed the Lakers 128-104 on Dec. 22 when LeBron James sat out his first game of the season.

“It’s tough when he’s out, but we still got to find ways to win,” Anthony Davis said after that game. “We lost our energy defensively. We got to continue to defend, and once we get that edge back, we’ll be fine.”

Three weeks earlier, L.A. had a statement win on the Nuggets’ court, taking a 105-96 decision on Dec. 3.

The Lakers come into Wednesday’s matchup relatively healthy, while Denver is still battling injuries. Mason Plumlee (right foot), Michael Porter Jr. (right ankle) and Will Barton (right knee inflammation) have missed multiple games.

Plumlee won’t return until after the All-Star break, and it’s likely the Nuggets hold out Porter and Barton as well, although both are close to a return. Wednesday is the last game before the NBA All-Star weekend for each, and the nine days off will let Denver work on better health.

The Nuggets still have plenty of firepower to go against James, Davis and the rest of the Lakers’ roster. Guard Jamal Murray gutted through a sore left ankle, and bumps and bruises, to help Denver rally from 23 down to beat San Antonio on Monday night.

Paul Millsap, who missed 15 games with a left knee contusion, sparked the rally with 22 points, 16 after halftime in the second game of his return.

Denver has won four consecutive games and six of its last seven games, including sweeps in a pair of back-to-back sets, despite dealing with a short bench.

“The last couple of games were really tough, but the team was there,” center Nikola Jokic said after Monday’s win. “We play for each other, we fight for each other, and that’s how we get those wins.”

The Nuggets will have to find a way to stop Davis, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds in the Dec. 3 win in Denver. Plumlee would have helped, but getting Millsap back, one of their best low-post defenders, could help contain the Lakers’ inside game. New additions at the trade deadline include Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan McRae and Noah Vonleh.

For the Lakers, the challenge is to remain focused before the break. The stretch run begins in late February, and it has been somewhat of a slog over the last six weeks.

“This little stretch from New Year’s to [the] All-Star break is kind of the dog days of the NBA season, and you have to fight monotony on a daily basis,” L.A. coach Frank Vogel said before his team beat Phoenix on Monday night, its fourth win in the last five games.

–Field Level Media

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