On a Monday night when an utterly meaningless game of preseason basketball somehow meant even less in the grand scheme of life and death, the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Denver Nuggets for an exhibition game of round ball.
Despite the world outside draggin' hearts down, Basketball wouldn't back down.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, neither would the Nuggets, as Denver won by a final count of 113-107. A retooled Denver squad now brought in four-time All-Star Paul Milsap, and the forward displayed his toughness with a strong rejection of Julius Randle early in the game.
Still, Randle finished with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes, and Lakers coach Luke Walton pointed to Randle as showing the biggest improvement of any player from the first game to the second.
"Indiviually, he had the biggest jump from last game to this game," Walton said before focusing on Randle's vocal attitude on the court, in particular when it came to help side defense.
The current version of the Lakers is in its infancy, and Walton is treating the entire preseason as a training camp for the team to work on learning defense, which remains a tough task, and building an offense around the talents of rookie Lonzo Ball. Luckily, Walton's offensive philosophy favors moving the basketball, which is Ball's natural inclination as a point guard.
Unfortunately, Monday kept piling on the bad news.
Ball tweaked his ankle just before halftime and limped back to the locker room ahead of the intermission. Though he came back out and started the third quarter, the former UCLA Bruin didn't appear to be moving too comfortably. Ultimately, the Lakers pulled Ball, sat him for the fourth quarter and sent the kid to receive treatment on what was officially diagnosed as a mild sprained ankle.
"If he can't practice, he can't be out there on the court with the guys," Walton said, hoping his starting point guard would not miss any practice time. "The way we want to play, it's going to slow down that process."
Walton added, "I got a little nervous when I saw him go down. I don't like to do that, but it was my natural reaction."
"Sprained ankle, but I'll be alright," Ball said, after limping to the podium following his Staples Center debut.
While Ball's ankle drew due attention, even that minor injury failed to distract from the Lakers' undeniably promising rookie, Kyle Kuzma. For the second game in a row, Kuzma led the team in scoring, this time scoring 23 points—11 of which came during a fourth quarter comeback that cut a 22-point Nuggets' fourth quarter advantage to only six points.
The fans in attendance came to life late and generated an incredible playoff-like atmosphere to assist in the Lakers' comeback, highlighted by the crowd rising to its feet after Kuzma scored with just under a minute remaining in the game.
Ultimately, the Lakers proved they still have a long way to go, as the next possession effectively sealed the game and handed the Lakers their second defeat of preseason. Kuzma's stock, though, keeps rising with every minute on the court.
Notes: Singer Tom Petty passed away on Monday, and the confirmation of his death arrived during the second half othe Lakers' game. After the game, the Lakers played "American Girl" as fans exited the arena.
Nuggets: Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic and Juan Hernangomez led the Nuggets to victory. Harris, who led all scorers with 25 points, and Jokic, who scored 16 points, grabbed a couple boards and handed off a trio of helpers in 23 minutes, joined Milsap, Wilson Chandler and Emmanuel Mudiay in a starting lineup that outscored its opposition by 15 points on the night. Denver could be good, but the Lakers still aren't in a position to serve as any sort of meaningful test of a team's fortitude.