Led 58-46 by the Nuggets at the break, the Lakers were having a complicated comeback at Staples Center, for their first home game in just over two weeks. But, in the second half, after being jostled by Frank Vogel, they recovered in style, to finally carry it in large widths (114-93).
Proof of their second half, to say the least, mastered and accomplished, the “Purple & Gold” inflicted a 68-35 on Denver in the third and fourth quarters. By shooting with more than 68% of success on the shots and by totaling 19 assists, in only 24 minutes, therefore!
Stifled, the Nuggets were never able to free themselves from the embrace of the Lakers, who once again demonstrated that they were the best defense in the NBA (104.4 points conceded out of 100 possessions). And what better example to corroborate this statistic than the performance of Nikola Jokic? Asphyxiated as rarely this season, the Serbian was limited to 13 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists (at 38% on shots), while he turned, before, this part, to nearly 27 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists average (at 57% on shots) …
Quite simply a reaction of champions on behalf of Los Angeles, which had the gift of delighting their coach, asked about it after the meeting.
« I was not happy with the way we played [en première mi-temps]. Because this team can achieve great things. And, tonight, she did it against a strong opponent. It was a hell of a second half, where we almost scored twice as many points [que les Nuggets]. With a lot of aggressiveness and assurance as soon as it was necessary to attack the circle. Our defensive energy created rhythm in attack. »
If LeBron James finished with a boss triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists), without giving a single moment the impression of forcing, it is especially the role players the Lakers who led them to a benchmark success, against the Nuggets who remained, before tonight, on seven wins in ten games.
Evidenced by the 41 points scored, in aggregate and off the bench, by the trio of Talen Horton-Tucker (17), Kyle Kuzma (11) and Montrezl Harrell (13). Three players whose impact could be observed at the end of the third quarter since they were all present on the floor, alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, when the “Purple & Gold” managed this run 15-0, fatal in Denver.
And the one who impressed the most at that time was Talen Horton-Tucker. At only 20 years old, the young rear is not afraid of anything. His long arms (2m16 wingspan!) Allow him, in particular, to constantly find a way to finish close to the circle, despite opposing defenders and impossible angles.
« He passed every test that we gave him. He continues to play well which has allowed him to land a bigger role in the rotation », summarized by Frank Vogel after the game. ” We trust him. He is a young player with the heart of a lion, who asks only to learn and improve. He fears nothing », confided as for him Anthony Davis.
Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso at the service of the collective
Another particularly good player last night: Kyle Kuzma. If he is having the worst season of his career, individually, the 25-year-old winger now has no trouble understanding his role in a team aiming for the double. As rightly pointed out Draymond Green sur Twitter, always very relevant in its analyzes.
An evolution which obviously delights Frank Vogel. ” [Kyle Kuzma] is a star in her role. He plays so hard on both sides of the court. Not everyone has this ability to do it naturally, but he can. »
Words that echo those that the Los Angeles coach had already said, earlier in the week. « He reached a new level [cette saison], without a doubt. He shows that he can fulfill this role of a team player, who does the dirty work, who can sometimes lead the charge in attack and who can really have an impact on the game other than scoring. This is undoubtedly the area in which he has improved the most between the end of last season and this season. »
Usually, however, the Lakers tended to rely on Alex Caruso to conclude their third quarters, alongside LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma or Montrezl Harrell. Given the heat stroke of Talen Horton-Tucker, this was not the case against the Nuggets, even if the contribution of “Bald Mamba” was often felt in this meeting.
« He’s definitely one of our best players, it’s that easy », frankly launched Frank Vogel. « It usually moves our cursor in the right direction and we can see it since last season, with its plus / minus (+/-). We want to make sure we use our bench depth so that we don’t shoot some players too much and Alex. [Caruso] is one of those players capable of making an impact on both sides of the court. Whether it is with his defense and versatility or his ability to register 3-points, to take the rebound, to pose good screens, to play the pick-and-roll with LeBron [James]… These are all the ways in which it impacts our game. »
Dennis Schröder’s decisive dives
However, it would be dishonest not to mention the importance of Dennis Schröder in this victory. Because it is in a way he who transformed the reigning champions. On the one hand, through its offensive contribution (21 points, 7/9 on shots). On the other hand, because of his two dives in the first half. At a time when Californians were unable to react to Denver’s dominance.
But by diving twice on lost balls, the German woke up his whole team, enchantant Frank Vogel, who rushed to come and relieve his leader in the process!
« As soon as a player dives to retrieve a ball, just in front of his coach, it will get him excited. We were looking for that dose of fighting spirit. Dennis [Schröder] perfectly matches our identity, he’s a tough guy. »
In the end, the Los Angeles coach can therefore count on a significant depth of the bench, which does not make it easy for him when it comes to composing his rotations. Some players like Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris have not seen the floor for a few games.
« It’s really complicated to have so many players who are used to playing a lot of minutes », Frank Vogel explained, earlier in the week. « It’s a challenge but, as I always say, it’s a good problem, a rich man’s problem. And we will adapt to it throughout the season. »