Lakers hold off Nuggets, 120-116

Denver Nuggets' Jameer Nelson, left, goes up for a basket under defense by Lakers' Nick Young during the first half Tuesday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

As Lakers rookie Ivica Zubac addressed a throng of reporters Tuesday, teammate D’Angelo Russell stood in the back claiming a bit of credit.

“D-Lo saw it first,” Russell said, presumably referring to what everyone now is seeing in Zubac.

It followed each player’s best game of the season. In a 120-116 win over the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, the Lakers got a glimpse of what their future perhaps could look like years from now. Russell had his first career 10-assist game, along with 22 points and only two turnovers. Zubac scored a career-high 17 points, playing 21 minutes, including a crucial stretch at the end.


Nick Young scored 23 points and Lou Williams scored 21 for the Lakers. With the help of their centers — Zubac and starter Timofey Mozgov — the Lakers outscored the Nuggets, 64-34 in the paint, after the Nuggets won the interior battle in the teams’ first meeting.

“We feel good,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “The guys in the locker room feel good, which is nice to see.”

Russell was back in the starting lineup after missing three games with a sprained knee ligament and strained calf muscle in his right leg. The Lakers played without starting power forward Julius Randle (pneumonia) and the Nuggets missed starting center Nikola Jokic.

The Lakers began the game by scoring eight consecutive points.

The first-quarter lead rose to 11 before Denver began to chip into it in a significant way. At that point the Nuggets responded with their own 8-0 run that included six points by forward Kenneth Faried and brought Denver within one.

Faried’s biggest contribution, though, was not his scoring. By the end of the first quarter, he nearly had a double-double. He scored 10 points and had nine rebounds during the period, in which the Lakers as a team had 10 rebounds.

The Lakers countered with a strong interior defense. Mozgov had three blocks and forward Luol Deng blocked Faried on two consecutive plays.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Young, with a steal by Young sandwiched in between, gave the Lakers a 76-68 lead in the third quarter.

But as the third quarter closed and into the fourth, the Nuggets went on a 15-0 run to take back the lead.

“We had a five-point lead [entering the fourth quarter] and by the first timeout I called a minute and a half into it, the lead was gone,” Walton said. “It was gone because Denver picked up their intensity and our way of dealing with it was to go one on one.”

It was a run the Lakers withstood with the help of a 39-point fourth quarter. Ultimately, their shooting and their passing — even Young gave up an open three for a teammate’s better look — carried them over the finish line.

That and the two kids who hope they’ll get many more games like this. As Zubac has become more and more integrated into the Lakers’ everyday operations, he’s had more time to practice with Russell.

“He did a great job,” Zubac said. “He was a leader on the court and I’m looking forward to playing more with him.”

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli