The Lakers (3-10) finally gained some momentum after an awful start to the season, winning two straight in Atlanta and Houston. On Friday, the Lakers where soundly beaten in Dallas by the Mavericks.
On Sunday, the Lakers will draw the Denver Nuggets (5-7), their first opponent all season with a losing record. Like the Lakers, the Nuggets started slowly, but they are coming to Staples Center riding a three-game winning streak.
The Nuggets are a prolific three-point shooting team, taking 25.7 attempts a game. The Lakers are on the other end of the spectrum, shooting only 16.2 a game.
Denver can run hot and cold, so the Lakers, who have struggled is on defense, need to make sure the Nuggets are cold Sunday.
Carlos Boozer (strained left shoulder) and Jeremy Lin (sore back) are both listed as probable for the Lakers, who will play without Ryan Kelly (hamstring), Steve Nash (back) and Julius Randle (leg).
Ty Lawson drives the Nuggets’ offense, averaging 16.2 points and 9.1 assists a game. Although he’s not a steady three-point threat (shooting 29%), the bigger issue is containing his penetration.
Lin, Ronnie Price and the Lakers’ big men need to do their best to contain Lawson. Where the Lakers seem to get hurt this season is when they send help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter.
The trick will be slowing Lawson without enabling shooters like Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye. Danilo Gallinari and Nate Robinson aren’t quite themselves yet after knee injuries, but both are threats as well.
Offensively, the Lakers are a much more dynamic team when Lin is contributing both as a scorer and playmaker. Through 13 games, Lin is averaging 11.8 points and 4.8 assists while shooting an efficient 48.1% from the field, 43.8% from behind the arc and 90.7% from the free-throw line. The one blemish on his stat-line would be his 2.9 turnovers per game.
The Nuggets provide a number of issues for the Lakers. Foye has had big shooting nights. Nate Robinson is a well-known Lakers’ nemesis. Afflalo does a reasonable job defensively on Bryant, and is a capable scorer.
The one player who always seems to torment the Lakers is center Timofey Mozgov. On the season, he’s averaging 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds -- expect bigger numbers Sunday.
Jordan Hill, Ed Davis and Boozer all need to give strong performances, not just on Mozgov, but in general for the Lakers to get back on track with a win.
The Lakers may be better than their record, but then so might the Nuggets. This should be a winnable game for the Lakers, but not an easy one.