Lakers’ five-game winning streak ends with loss to the Nuggets

Denver's Jamal Murray, center, fights for control of the ball with Lakers guard Max Christie, left, and center Thomas Bryant.
Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, battling Lakers guard Max Christie and center Thomas Bryant for a loose ball, had 34 points Monday night in Denver.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Russell Westbrook’s shot was blocked at the rim, triggering a Denver fast break pushing the other way. And just after Bruce Brown’s floater bounced in off the backboard to beat the third-quarter buzzer, Wenyen Gabriel walked off the floor with both of his hands on his head in total exhaustion.

For the last five games, it didn’t matter who the Lakers had on the floor — they played harder, tougher, quicker and more effectively. In one of those games, LeBron James was even sidelined.

With James out again on Monday, it wasn’t going to happen again.

The good vibes from the Lakers’ recent season-high five-game winning streak were undone without much drama against the Nuggets, the West’s best team dominating on both sides of the court against their undermanned visitors in a 122-109 Denver win.


With James sidelined because of left ankle soreness, the Lakers started rookie Max Christie for the first time in his young NBA career. And with Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr. and Austin Reaves both out, the Lakers played two-way rookie Cole Swider and Sterling Brown, whom the Lakers signed on a 10-day contract, more than 42 combined minutes.

The Lakers got even more short-handed when Patrick Beverley left the game at halftime because of a right hip injury he suffered after slipping in the second quarter.

The required effort was there fairly consistently — the necessary levels of execution were achieved less so.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but there were spurts in the game where we gave ourselves a chance,” Westbrook said.

Dennis Schroder, who had scored at least 20 points in each of the Lakers’ previous three wins, struggled to find a rhythm. Same for Westbrook, who was at his most effective and efficient Saturday in Sacramento.

Against Denver, he tried to fill the void without James and Anthony Davis, but with Denver’s defense keyed on pressuring him, Westbrook didn’t really look comfortable until the second half, when Denver had already built a double-digit lead.


After missing his first eight shots, Westbrook finished 10 of 21 to lead the Lakers with 25.

At the end of the day, it’s the fight,” coach Darvin Ham said of Westbrook. “…As long as he’s out there, he’s going to keep coming at you.”

Westbrook said he dislocated his finger in the first half and popped it back into the joint twice.

Jamal Murray scored 34 for Denver and Nikola Jokic made all five of his shots to finish with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists — just the 12th time a player has had a triple-double when shooting five or fewer times.

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook drives to the basket as Denver Nuggets forward Bruce Brown defends.
Lakers guard Russell Westbrook, right, drives to the basket as Denver Nuggets forward Bruce Brown defends in the second half on Monday in Denver.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

“His touch on his passes, his touch on his shots — he’s one of those once-in-a-generation type of bigs that does it all,” Ham said of Jokic.


The days without James and Davis could be limited, a light at the end of a tunnel approaching with Ham saying Davis will begin a ramp-up process to return to the floor starting Tuesday.

“There’s different benchmarks built within the process in the upcoming weeks,” Ham said. “If he meets those marks and checks those boxes, then he’ll be back on the court. It’s as simple as that. Am I willing to put a timetable on it? No. It’s just — we have a distinct plan that’s detailed, that we’re gonna follow through.”

James’ sore ankle is more of a day-to-day kind of thing, with Ham and the Lakers’ medical staff communicating daily on the 20-year veteran’s status.

“He listens to his body, very responsible in that regard,” Ham said before the game. “At the end of the day, we’ve been playing well obviously. Again, we don’t want to subject our guys to something that a little rest can help in the short term or force the issue where it turns into a long-term issue.

“So him sitting out is totally fine.”

The Lakers edged Sacramento 136-134 for their fifth consecutive win, continuing their strong run since LeBron James’ critical comments after a loss at Miami.

Jan. 7, 2023

Ham said there’s no indication whether James will or won’t be able to play Thursday against Dallas, though he’s hopeful the Lakers will be able to “get some bodies back.”

Even though the Lakers had their winning streak end, there’s still optimism as they head into the second half of the season.


The Lakers know how to play hard, how to play with pace and, lately, how to win.

“I think we understand that as a team now,” Westbrook said.