DENVER -- Before starting a stretch of games against the league's elite teams, the Denver Nuggets host the Los Angeles Lakers, who have their sights set and their GPS programmed to the lottery with a month left in the regular season.
With games against the Clippers, Rockets, and Cavaliers on the horizon, this is a classic trap game for the Nuggets. If Denver wants to play meaningful basketball come late-April, they need to win games against lesser opponents at home.
Regular season game No. 67 | Denver Nuggets (31-35) vs Los Angeles Lakers (20-46)
The matchup with the Lakers presents a unique situation for the Nuggets. A win at Pepsi Center over the Lakers is not very significant in a vacuum but when you bring in the perspective that Denver's coming off of a 20-point victory over the Celtics at home and then kept the Kings at bay from start to finish on their own floor the next night, a victory Monday gives the Nuggets a nice three-game winning streak. It's an important matchup before arguably Denver's hardest stretch of the season.
A loss to the youthful Lakers would be bad any way you slice it but to lose to the Lakers at home with just a game-and-a-half lead in the playoffs would be devastating. Add in the fact that Denver has to face the Clippers, Rockets (twice), and the Cavaliers over the next four games, who have a combined winning percentage of 65.2 percent on the year, means that tonight's matchup is that important.
This is a game that Denver cannot afford to lose and it could be tonight's matchup that turns out to be a deciding factor in whether or not the Nuggets end their three-year playoff drought. If Denver heads into the rest of their schedule with a three-game winning streak and are able to get healthy, it could help carry them to the eighth seed. This is a game that Denver must win.
Denver is a game-and-a-half up on the Portland Trail Blazers, two-and-a-half games up on the Dallas Mavericks, and three-and-a-half games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference heading into Monday night's matchup.
The Timberwolves host the Wizards and the Mavericks face off against the Raptors in Toronto tonight. The Trail Blazers are off Monday.
Jameer Nelson was "very sore" after Denver's win in Sacramento, according to Christopher Dempsey of Altitude, which leaves the door open for Jamal Murray to potentially start at point guard. It's rare that Nelson admits that he's hurting so it's not out of the question for Nelson to rest against the Lakers before Denver enters a stretch of games that includes the Clippers, Houston Rockets (twice), and the Cavaliers.
Kenneth Faried has been upgraded to "doubtful" after going through pregame warmups in Sacramento. While he's most likely out against the Lakers Faried's could return before Denver plays a handful of elite teams and starts a road-heavy finish to their season.