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The Denver Nuggets Own the Los Angeles Lakers

Brendan Vogt Avatar
March 3, 2024

Nikola Jokić – A

Jokić looks increasingly comfortable against what’s famously known as the ‘Rui Adjustment.’ The Lakers, of course, are not the only team in the league to deploy that strategy against the Nuggets. As Michael Malone explained to a national audience during the Western Conference Finals, Denver has seen that look countless times. Jokić seems to have it solved now against Anthony Davis and the Lakers.

Rui Hachimura was the primary defender for most of the night. After spinning into a double team early, Jokić made a subtle and straightforward adjustment. He just went away from AD. Jokić utilized a variety of tricky fadeaway angles and over-the-shoulder shots to avoid the help. He essentially used Hachimura as a shield. Davis couldn’t cheat too hard with jeopardizing the whole operation on defense.

Just for good measure, Jokić hit another Sombor Shuffle in AD’s grill before the night was up. No one understands Jokić’s greatness better than Nuggets fans. But at this rate, the Lakers base must be a close second.

Jamal Murray – A

Jamal Murray was listed as questionable to play against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night. But he was unquestionably ready for the national TV showdown. Murray laced them up despite a sprained ankle and gutted out an impressive performance. Finding his jumper took a while, but he had no problem setting the table. Murray recorded a game-high 11 assists, including five to Michael Porter Jr. Four of those resulted in three-pointers.

After helping MPJ get hot, Murray put on a two-man game clinic with Nikola Jokić in the clutch. The Nuggets scored on eight of their final eight possessions. It was a tough start to the season in the category, but the Nuggets have reclaimed their throne in the clutch. They are the league’s best team when it matters most.

Michael Porter Jr. – A+

Michael Porter Jr. didn’t miss a shot against the Lakers. That’s not hyperbole or a clever joke about a DNP. He took ten shots, he hit ten shots, and it looked like he could have hit ten more if he needed to. As mentioned above, Murray helped Porter get hot early, and a 3/3 start from deep demanded overzealous closeouts. Porter attacked them calmly before stepping into open mid-range looks, where he’s been lethal all season. It was a shotmaking masterclass, but that description sells Porter’s performance short. He also grabbed ten rebounds and blocked Anthony Davis in the clutch. He recorded four assists, too — just one shy of tying his career-high.

The Nuggets welcome individual scoring outbursts but don’t necessarily need them to win. At their best, they produce beautiful basketball as a five-man group. As self-righteous as this reads, they are genuinely above 60-point performances. Porter’s 10 shots were the fourth most on the team. He did his damage, then fell back while the best duo in basketball went to work.

Porter ranges from the second to fifth best Nugget on the floor on any given night. Depending on which Nuggets fans you ask, the real ‘Big 3’ includes Aaron Gordon. And KCP’s defense makes him essential to the entire operation. It’s unclear where Porter ranks among them. But here’s what should be clear by now: it simply doesn’t matter. The Nuggets have a title in hand and a near-perfect starting five. That’s worth every penny. We’ll worry about the cap sheet down the road.

Aaron Gordon – B+

Gordon provided a perfect example of how the loudness of mistakes can distract from the bigger picture. His worst possessions were maddening in this game. He free-styled in bizarre ways at the wrong times. And yet, he played a very good game in Los Angeles. AG finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds (5 OREB), 5 assists, 1 steal, and only 1 turnover. He shot 50% from the field and knocked down a clutch 3 to take the lead. He also shared DPOG honors with Christian Braun.

While Murray and Jokić showed the world how to run a pick-and-roll, Aaron Gordon stalked the action like a big cat, waiting for his turn to pounce down the stretch. He sunk the dagger with an and-one alley-oop, courtesy of Nikola Jokić. That’s the prettiest play in basketball.

Christian Braun – B

Christian’s first stint was brutal. He got an early hook from Malone but ultimately returned to action, settled in, and entered playoff mode. Braun fully displayed his defensive prowess with three combined steals and blocks. He grabbed five rebounds, too. He did signature CB things. That’s all Denver needed.

Justin Holiday – A+

Chances are you didn’t sit down for 31 Justin Holiday minutes Saturday night. But 31 minutes is what you got, and you probably would have taken more. Holiday was exceptional off the bench. He outscored the Lakers’ second unit with 13 points on 5/7 shooting. The Fireman strikes again.

Peyton Watson – B-

Watson blocked three more shots, each looking sweeter than the last. He is more fun to watch on defense than any player on the roster. He’s also found his half-court shot with the turnaround jumper from just outside the paint.

Reggie Jackson – D+

While most of the Nuggets are rounding into playoff form, it’s hard to say the same about Reggie Jackson. His contributions were essential to surviving those games without Murray. Unfortunately, as things stand, he’s the biggest concern in the playoff rotation.

Zeke Nnaji – F

I don’t want to do this today.


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