Photo via @Lakers Twitter
If you watched ESPN’s broadcast of Nuggets-Lakers Sunday night you were able to experience the fanfare that was LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers debut. Everything from LeBron’s warm-ups, announcement in the starting lineup, taking off the warm-up shirt, first touch, first basket, and so on was broadcast and analyzed for the national audience.
LeBron and the Lakers had an opponent on this night, however, and that opponent was a rejuvenated Denver Nuggets team looking to prove that they could stand the test of the season ahead and make their first playoff appearance since 2012-13.
All of this seems like a bit much for a preseason match-up in San Diego, but when LeBron James is involved that’s how it tends to go. The Nuggets wouldn’t let that be a distraction as they gave LeBron his introduction to the wild Western Conference.
Nuggets opened the preseason with a win over the Lakers 124 – 107. Get used to it Lebron. You’re out west now pic.twitter.com/NLL4So0B4s
— Blake Kemple🏀⛏ (@BucketsBlak3) October 1, 2018
Much of the emphasis early was put on the fast-paced style that the both teams were playing with. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of these teams finish as two of teams with the highest pace of play by the end of the season.
The main difference from last season that was most noticeable was that the Nuggets seemed to be more disciplined defensively, specifically Nikola Jokic locking down in the post. Perhaps Torrey Craig’s presence in the starting lineup played a role, but the defense seemed to not struggle as much as it has, especially on the road, in the past. For a first preseason game against a team that looked to push the pace, that’s a great start in an area that Denver will continue to improve throughout the year.
The rotation wasn’t completely set in stone tonight, with Gary Harris out due to injury, but we got an early look at who some of the main contributors off the bench will be. While the offense started to stagnate similar to last year with Jokic on the bench, the second unit eventually settled in and began hitting their shots.
Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez highlighted the group’s hot shooting by getting out to a 4/4 start combined from the 3-point line. Monte Morris, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee held down the rest of the second unit as Denver led by five after the first quarter.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 1, 2018
A lot of emphasis was put on how Jamal Murray was having a rough training camp shooting the ball while rehabbing a minor ankle injury. Murray didn’t seem to be showing any adverse effects Sunday night. When he checked back in for the second quarter he was key to Denver’s continued success, coming in and converting 2/2 on pull-up 3-pointers on his way to going an efficient 8/12 from the field.
Although the Nuggets let the Lakers back into the game with an early 15-2 run in the third quarter, the story was mainly the second unit’s dominance over that of the Lakers. Juancho and Beasley kept their solid performances going, but the most interesting story was likely Monte Morris’ maturity on both ends of the court. In all, the complete second unit finished with +/-‘s ranging between +28 and +32.
Monte Morris has played well tonight, especially to close this quarter. Makes it really interesting to think about how he and I.T. will fit in the rotation when it comes to that.
— Patrick Arsenault (@parsenault19) October 1, 2018
The fourth quarter closed with many of the Nuggets’ two-way and training camp players as the Nuggets went on to defeat the Lakers 124-107. Juancho Henangomez and Jamal Murray led the way for the Nuggets with 19 and 18 points respectively on 7/11 shooting combined from the three. Javale McGee added 17 points for the Lakers in the loss.
The Nuggets will make another national television appearance Tuesday night as they rematch the Lakers in LeBron’s Staples Center debut and another chance for Denver to prove their worth in the Western Conference.