Nuggets fans, enjoy times like these. The Los Angeles Lakers are terrible. Awful. The doormat of the Western Conference. They had their worst season since moving to California in ’13-’14 finishing a lousy 27-55. They were worse the next season going 21-61. They’ll finish even worse this year. Last night’s 116-105 defeat at the hands of Denver was just one more painful moment in a long stretch of misery for a team usually responsible for everyone else’s agony.
Surely, there’s nowhere to go but up for the purple and gold. I bet they said that two years ago. They certainly said it after last year’s Draft. Nope. They continued to go in the wrong direction. As of today there are just two NBA teams that have failed to reach at least 20 wins. One is the perpetual tank machine masquerading as the Philadelphia 76ers. The other is the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour may have distracted many from LA’s sudden ineptness, but not here. Not a chance. Denver fans need to soak in this moment in time because they are the ones that know what it’s like to be treated as a second-class citizen to the West royalty. The stigma of a 7-21 playoff record against the Lakers doesn’t help.
Recently the Nuggets have been on the upswing. Their Lottery watch has been pushed aside as more people start to think maybe the young guys Denver already has are going to be really good. It’s definitely something to consider. They have two star rookies, Jusuf Nurkic looks like the the player FiveThirtyEight called a future all-star, and GM Tim Connelly has had more hits than misses on finding role players who can contribute. Getting a top-3 pick in the Draft is an opportunity that doesn’t happen very often for the vast majority of the league. It would have been a phenomenal thing to happen to the Nuggets to jump up in the Lottery. They’ve been winning as of late and New York seems to have moved past their horrendous stretch (not to mention tank fever spreading around the league). When the Lottery balls finally go into the mini hurricane machine Denver might have just the 9th & 10th-best odds of a top-3 pick. I’m not saying nothing will happen but it kinda looks like nothing will happen.
Regardless of their future, the Nuggets are in a good place right now. They’re five games back in the loss column of a playoff spot in a season that saw a bunch of kids take the reigns. And they keep beating the Lakers.
Denver has won their last six games in Staples Center against the Lakers. Not bad for a team that has two separate 10-game losing streaks in LA in their history. They’ve rarely had similar success even at home. From 1976-1979 and they won six straight in Denver. The game that ended that run was the Lakers’ first ever win in the Mile High City. The Nuggets even lost seven straight at McNichols at one point in the mid-80s.
Overall the Nuggets have beaten the Lakers in 12 of their last 14 meetings. Going back to the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade the Nuggets are 24-18 versus LA in the regular season and playoffs. That doesn’t totally soften the blow of losing two playoff series to them and the championship tally being 2-0 in that span, but it’s obviously better than getting smoked by the Kobe and Pau squad over and over.
As for the most recent matter, Nuggets play-by-play man Chris Marlowe put it well after last night’s game saying eventually the starters and bench will play well in the same game. On Friday it was just the bench who excelled as each reserve got at least 22 minutes of action and even Joffrey Lauvergne had a plus/minus of +11.
Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell may be linked throughout their careers as the top point guards in an extraordinary draft class. Mudiay finishes their first batch of head-to-head matchups 3-0 with averages of 14.3 points, 6.7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers to Russell’s 11 points, 2.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.7 turnovers. Denver’s point guard prize is finishing his rookie campaign strong while LA’s continues to be rocky albeit with some strong moments.
Only time will tell if this is the new normal and the Nuggets will have the upperhand on the Lakers even as LA finds their way out of purgatory. If things eventually go back to the old normal where the Lakers zip by Denver time and time again while their obnoxious fans disparage everything connected to the Nuggets… well, like I said, enjoy what’s happening right now.