Lakers find a way to win against the Nuggets

After Anthony Davis blocked Facundo Campazzo's 3-point attempt which sealed the win for the Los Angeles Lakers, Davis patted his chest and declared, "We're back! We're back!" Their 93-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets last Monday night at the Staples Center provided a salve in their recent rash of losses. After losing six of seven games, the Lakers need to discover and define their identity quickly.

Without LeBron James, the Lakers' offense has resembled still pond water. It's been stagnant, lazy, and disjointed. With injuries to Davis and James, and now without Dennis Schröder the next 10-14 days due to COVID-19 protocols, the Lakers have struggled to execute offensively. Against the Nuggets, Los Angeles was able to turn defensive stops into transitional baskets, which developed a rhythm for players and allowed them to knock down shots. Defensive stops that turn into transitional buckets is what has come to characterize the Lakers' offense. Despite their offensive woes, what has remained constant is their ability to play defense. Even without James and Davis, the Lakers have rated as a top two defense in the NBA.

The Nuggets entered last Monday's game against the Lakers with an offensive rating of 119. Los Angeles were able to hold them to a rating of 96.

Despite the win Los Angeles saw their offensive woes continue, turning the ball over 20 times and only scoring 93 points. What kept them in the game was them committing to, and playing, sound defense.

"Tonight, we played Laker basketball," Davis said. "We're running. We're helping each other. We're talking. We're sharing the basketball. We did everything that Laker basketball consists of. So, when we continue to do this then we can start adding more wins than losses in our record. So, it was good just to see us play our style of basketball to night. And like I said, we just got to feed off this game."

Along with a healthy LeBron and Davis, the Lakers' depth makes them heavy favorites to repeat as champions. Frank Vogel has a challenge on his hands. He has a bevy of talent in players, all of whom want to contribute. Marc Gasol has been one of the players who has been lost in the shuffle but remains a crucial cog in the Lakers' playoff plans. After Andre Drummond got into early foul trouble, Vogel opted to play Gasol on Denver superstar Nikola Jokic.

Coach Frank Vogel commended Gasol's ability to stay prepared. "Marc Gasol's a winner. You know what I mean, and he understands what it takes to win at a high level. That type of commitment and sacrifice, and whatever the team needs attitude is what's necessary for us to win a championship. That's what we're asking him and all of our guys really. For him to be in that headspace and having that attitude is just something that's really going to benefit us."

"What I loved about Marc before we signed him was that he dominated this place last year without scoring," Vogel said. "He dominated with his defense and rebounding."

Gasol led the team in plus/minus with a plus 17. His 10 points and seven rebounds don't tell how effective he was for the Lakers and how cumbersome he was for the Nuggets, specifically when he was guarding Nikola Jokic.

The team centric Gasol made it evident how the Lakers can find the joy of winning.

"We have to enjoy the defensive effort from five guys that are helping one another. When somebody is on the ball, making sure that he understands that we all have his back behind him. That communication that helps that rotation, that activity on the defensive end, allows us to run. It creates trust."

Davis led the Lakers in scoring, going 9-for-19 with 25 points; however, Talen Horton-Tucker and Marc Gasol made the Lakers' decisive plays down the stretch.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Los Angeles kicked off the quarter with a 13-4 run and led by as much as 14 points. With 10:35 left to play, Marc Gasol snagged a rebound and hurled an overhead outlet pass to a leaking Wes Matthews, who finished on a beautiful reverse layup.

The Lakers led by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter before the Nuggets got within 89-87 with a late rally.

The Nuggets counterpunched Los Angeles with a run of their own, going 14-2 midway through the fourth, trimming the Laker lead down to 89-87. With 41.8 seconds remaining, Davis hit a deft two-foot floater in the lane to put the Lakers up by four.

After Jokic knocked down a pair of free throws on a questionable shooting foul, with 16.7 seconds left to play, Horton-Tucker wildly attempted to draw a foul. He threw up a spinning layup that missed, grabbed the rebound, and kissed the ball off of the backboard for a reverse layup, scoring the game's final points.

Horton-Tucker continues to progress and displays his skill. Closing against the Nuggets marked the first opportunity to close out a game for the young Laker. Horton-Tucker rewarded the coaching staff with clutch play for opting to go with him.

"I feel like the shot I took, I pretty much kind of ran out of options," Horton-Tucker said. "I just tried to get something on the backboard. I just felt like it was instinct almost. Just being able to be in that position was just crazy, my first time really being in at the end of the game. I look at everything as a learning experience, and that's going to be another one for me."

The Lakers have the rubric for success. Locking in on defense and trusting one another, especially during offensive lulls, will play a pivotal role if the Lakers defend their title. A handful of games remain to see if they can build their chemistry.

Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared


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