Nikola Jokic, Nuggets Crush Anthony Davis and the LeBron James-Less Lakers

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis is fouled as he shoots between Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., left, and center Mason Plumlee during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets won their sixth straight game by squashing the Los Angeles Lakers 128-104 at Staples Center on Sunday night.

The Lakers were without LeBron James, whom head coach Frank Vogel disclosed suffered a thoracic muscle strain against Indiana on Tuesday but played through the injury on Thursday in Milwaukee. Kyle Kuzma, out since Dec. 8 with an ankle injury, returned for L.A.

L.A.’s offense was mostly stagnant without James. Vogel rolled with a makeshift starting five featuring All-Star forward Anthony Davis, center JaVale McGee, guard Avery Bradley, guard Rajon Rondo and guard Danny Green. It marked Rondo’s first start of the season.

Davis posted his fifth consecutive double-double, but the only other Laker to score in double digits was Kuzma.

Denver contrastingly showcased effective depth with six double-digit scorers.

The Nuggets improved to 20-8 and second-place position in the Western Conference.

L.A. fell to 24-6, riding a three-game losing streak. However, the Lakers are still sitting pretty atop the Western Conference entering their matchup with the crosstown-rival Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas Day.


Notable Stats

DEN F Paul Millsap: 21 points, 1 rebound

DEN G Gary Harris: 19 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, 4 steals

DEN C Nikola Jokic: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

DEN G Will Barton: 14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals

LAL F Anthony Davis: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 blocks

LAL F Kyle Kuzma: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks

LAL G Rajon Rondo: 5 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals


Nuggets’ Depth Overwhelms Short-Handed Lakers

Millsap was considered questionable for this game with a left knee contusion, but the 34-year-old forward’s performance left no doubt:

Millsap carried the Nuggets in place of their usual leaders. Jokic went from the 2:39 mark in the first quarter to 3:40 mark in the third without scoring a point. Jamal Murray, the team’s leading scorer (17.9 points per game) entering Sunday, was held to just six points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Murray was still effective as an outlet, though, as one of five Nuggets with a team-high five assists:

The Nuggets bench picked up some slack, too, with Malik Beasley (16 points) and Mason Plumlee (10 points) leading the way for the reserves: