Two nights after earning a late-game win over the Chicago Bulls, the Denver Nuggets were once again involved in a dramatic fourth quarter. The Nuggets and Lakers were tied with 3:57 remaining, but Denver scored the final 15 points of the game to win 115-100. Here are five observations from the win.
1. The defense was phenomenal down the stretch
The Nuggets nearly blew a game to the worst team in the NBA on Thursday night due to poor defense. On Saturday night, the Nuggets won a game because they put the clamps down on that end. Denver held Los Angeles to just two points over the final five minutes of play. Brandon Ingram's layup with 3:57 left tied the game at 100. From then on, the Lakers failed to convert from the line or the field.
Los Angeles committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter and got outscored 37-20. Denver bared down on the defensive end toward the end of the game and came away with a double-digit win.
"Just attention to who we were playing against," Mason Plumlee said. "Obviously, you have a game plan going into the game. But if you just understand your player and his tendencies, and collectively know what guys are trying to do, it makes us a lot better. We weren’t letting Ingram go to his right. We weren’t letting (Julius) Randle go downhill. I think we’re getting better at catching onto guys toward the end."
2. The Nuggets needed Jamal Murray to have a good game, and he delivered
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was asked before the game what he was looking for from his points guards. "Make a shot," Malone said.
Jamal Murray, Malone's starting point guard, was mired in a slump entering the game. He'd connected on 2-22 three-point shots in a six-game stretch dating back to Nov. 19. Murray found his touch from outside against the Lakers, though. He hit three three-pointers in the first quarter alone and finished with a game-high 28 points. Murray went 5-8 on three balls and dished out four assists.
Harris did a 360 in the air before tossing the ball into the hoop with his right hand. It was another stroke of brilliance at the rim from Harris, who is quietly one of basketball's best guards at finishing around the orange cylinder. Harris is shooting 76 percent on shots at the rim this season, according to Cleaning the Glass. That puts him in the 91st percentile among all players.
"It’s just one of those things where you don’t really think about because if you think about it, you’re not going to do it," Harris said. "It just happened."
4. Trey Lyles is finally getting minutes, and he looks good
For Trey Lyles, minutes were hard to come by in the early stages of the season. Paul Millsap and Kenneth Faried were both ahead of him in the power forward rotation. Plus, Wilson Chandler and Juancho Hernangomez could slide over to play that spot. But with Millsap sidelined, some of those minutes suddenly went up for grabs. Lyles has seized some of them, and he's performed well.
Lyles recorded season highs in minutes (30) and points (18) Saturday. He went 6-9 from the floor, made both of the three-pointers he attempted and was a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line.
"He can hoop," Harris said.
Lyles has gotten double-digit minutes in each of Denver's last seven games. He's entrenched himself in the rotation.
5. The Nuggets won the turnover battle
The Nuggets' issues protecting the ball are well-documented. In five games this season, Denver has committed 20 turnovers or more. Against the Lakers on Nov. 19, Denver turned it over 21 times. What a breath of fresh air it must've been for Malone to see his team commit just 12 turnovers Saturday.
The Nuggets won the turnover battle handily. The Lakers turned it over 21 times — nine more times than their opponent. The Nuggets converted those giveaways into 28 points. They are 7-2 this season when scoring more points off turnovers than the team they're facing.