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With LeBron James injured, Lakers fall to Nuggets for third consecutive loss

Lakers center Dwight Howard fights for position under the basket with Nuggets center Mason Plumlee.
Lakers center Dwight Howard fights for position under the basket with Nuggets center Mason Plumlee during the second quarter Sunday at Staples Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

LeBron James sat on the last chair of the Lakers’ bench wearing a hoodie and a black jacket, unable to play for the first time this season because of a thoracic muscle strain.

Then Anthony Davis injured his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s 128-104 loss to the Denver Nuggets, leaving the Lakers with their dynamic duo ailing heading into the showdown against the Clippers on Christmas day in the NBA’s featured game.

But the good news was that both were eyeing playing Wednesday when they left Staples Center.

The Lakers listed James as day to day after he suffered the injury in his rib cage area Tuesday at Indiana, and it didn’t stop him from playing at Milwaukee on Thursday.

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“Only he knows his body,” Davis said of James.

“If he felt like he needed a game off, I mean, that’s something you have to ask him.”

James took some shots at practice Saturday, and the team was hopeful he would feel well enough to practice Monday and play Wednesday after five days off to heal.

“Hopefully he’ll be available for us on Christmas day,” coach Frank Vogel said.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 128-104 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

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“But we’ll see how the injury heals up and whenever he gets back, we’ll benefit from that for sure.”

James will be needed to help the Lakers (24-6) stop a season-high three-game losing streak, with the loss to the Nuggets their largest margin of defeat this season.

James had to watch Rajon Rondo start in his place at point guard and Avery Bradley move back into the starting lineup in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They were joined by Davis, Danny Green and JaVale McGee, while the bench got Kyle Kuzma back after he missed the previous five games recovering from a sprained left ankle.

Davis tried to carry the load in James’ absence and did more than his part with 32 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Kuzma added 16 points in 22 minutes. But no one else reached double figures, and with the Lakers down by 20 late in the fourth quarter, Davis limped to the bench for good.

He had tweaked his knee late in the third quarter after slipping on the court and fouling Denver’s Paul Millsap in the process. Davis got the knee looked at while on the bench but returned to play and started the fourth quarter.

“I felt fine enough to go back out and play,” said Davis, who played almost 34 minutes.

He said, “I’ll see how it feels tomorrow” before making a decision about playing against the Clippers.

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“We got two days before our next game, so that should be plenty of enough time to get it back right,” Davis said. “But obviously the game just ended so we got to see how it feels overnight and then hopefully nothing significant happens and get some treatment on it and continue to move forward Wednesday.”

The Lakers fell behind by as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter. They gave up 73 points in the second half and turned the ball over 19 times, turning a close game into a rout.

Millsap led the Nuggets with 21 points.

Considering James is ninth in the NBA in scoring (25.8) and first in assists (10.8) — not to mention the Lakers’ primary ball handler and their leader — not having him to help carry the load was a big loss from the beginning.

“LeBron is obviously a game-changer,” Vogel said. “Our offensive flow. Defensive communication, quarterbacking, playmaking offensively, being able to get guys shots. Probably all that stuff.”

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