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Lakers stage fourth-quarter rally, but fall short to Nuggets, 127-121

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson, left, and Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton reach for a loose ball during the first half.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Lakers extended their losing streak to five with a 127-121 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Staples Center on Tuesday night, their 21st loss in 26 games since Dec. 2, but unlike so many of their previous defeats, this one didn’t leave such a sour taste in their mouths.

That’s because the young, inconsistent—and often unpredictable—Lakers, known for their fast starts and fizzling finishes, staged a furious fourth-quarter rally in which they cut a 19-point late-third-quarter defict to one with 1 minute 52 seconds left before succumbing to the high-scoring Nuggets.

And they did it with starting point guard D’Angelo Russell and struggling power forward Julius Randle on the bench and with Ivica Zubac, the seldom-used 19-year-old center from Croatia, who is finally beginning to get some more meaningful minutes, in the middle of it all.

“We found that competitive spirit again, that passion, the way we want to play,” Coach Luke Walton said. “As much as you hate to lose, someone had to lose tonight, but you’re happy. It definitely allows you to go home and know it’s there again. Hopefully, it carries over.”

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It appeared the Nuggets, who rank fourth in the NBA in scoring with an average of 109.3 points a game, would blow out the Lakers when they took a 101-84 lead and all five of their starters reached double figures by the middle of the third period.

But the Lakers rallied behind reserve guard Lou Williams, who scored 14 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, and Jordan Clarkson, who scored eight of his 19 points in the fourth.

Nick Young scored seven of his 22 points in the fourth. Zubac, who scored seven of his 11 points in the final period. Zubac also pulled down 13 rebounds and blocked three shots for his first double-double.

Playing most of the fourth quarter with Williams, Clarkson, Zubac, Young and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers chipped away at the Nuggets’ lead, with Zubac dunking off a nice Clarkson bounce pass early in the quarter and dunking off another Clarkson assist to trim Denver’s lead to 107-96 with seven minutes left.

Young’s three-pointer from the left corner made 116-111 with four minutes left, and Williams’ three from the top of the key made it 116-114 with 3:13 left. Clarkson’s three-pointer from the right corner pulled the Lakers to within 120-119 with 1:52 left, but that was as close as the Lakers got.

Center Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 29 points and 15 rebounds, guard Will Barton added 26 points and eight assists, forward Kenneth Faried scored 20 points and Danilo Gallinari, Emmanuel Mudiay and Wilson Chandler each scored 14.

“We started playing for each other,” Walton said of the fourth-quarter surge. “All of a sudden, we started making that extra pass and getting stops and doing things the right way.

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“Call it karma, or the basketball gods, but when you do things the right way, good things happen.”

That so many of those good things happened with two of his key players — Russell and Randle — on the bench, did not concern Walton.

“They sat there on the bench and watched five guys give it their all,” Walton said. “We made subs until we found a group of guys that was willing to commit and fight and gave us a chance.”

The first three quarters? Not so much.

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“I thought some guys competed, some guys were trying to do the right thing,” Walton said. “It can be frustrating at times because as a player, I know what it’s like. These are the dog days of the NBA season, from now until the All-Star break. People are worn down, we’re losing ballgames, but that’s not OK.

“We have a good group of guys. We know we’re trying to build for something bigger and better, and we can’t afford to waste opportunities, to waste days.”

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna


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