Preview: Lakers face Nuggets, likely without LeBron for first time this year

Dec 3, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) is called for a foul on Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) in the second half at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off their first two-game losing streak of the seasons after heartbreaking losses to the Pacers and Bucks to wrap up a five-game road trip.

The schedule doesn’t get much easier as the Lakers return home on Saturday to face the Denver Nuggets ahead of their much anticipated Christmas Day matchup against the Clippers.

In the first matchup between the two sides, the Lakers dominated inside, out-rebounding Denver by 21 and holding Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to just 13 points on 12 shots. The Nuggets seem to have improved since the early December game, however, having won five straight games (albeit against sub-par competition) to take a hold of the second seed in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets effectively go as Jokic goes. Their defense has been top notch all year but their offense has fluctuated based on how aggressive their star center plays. In the last matchup, the Lakers bigs did a phenomenal job of limiting Jokic, especially in the first half, and it showed in Denver managing just 96 points in the first half.

The Lakers are likely to be without LeBron James due to a strained back injury (and potential groin issue) and that could pose a risk against a great defensive team. The Lakers have had problems with the lack of ball-handling and playmaking on the roster outside of James which reared its head in the loss to the Bucks. Gary Harris, in particular, is having a tremendous year defending on the perimeter and could give a lot off issues to the Lakers’ guards.

Fortunately, the Lakers will have Kyle Kuzma back. The young forward has not been able to get in a rhythm this year due to injuries but his shooting and his ability to handle the ball from a frontcourt position will both be important attributes if the Lakers are to avoid a three-gamr losing streak.

The Lakers host the Nuggets at 6:30 PM PST. The game will be available on Spectrum and nationally on NBA TV.

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