The Los Angeles Lakers take on the Denver Nuggets a mile above sea level on Tuesday evening.
Kobe Bryant is expected to play, and the 2014-15 Lakers' progression is predicated on Bryant's ability to stay productive on the court. The 36-year-old recently sat out three games due to fatigue. In his first game back, Bryant took a step back down the stretch, and no, he was not pouting.
In a close game in the fourth quarter, Bryant passed the ball to Nick Young repeatedly. Young came through more often than not, as the Lakers would ultimately lose due to rebounding and defense more than an inability to score points at the end of games.
"Kobe's been one of my favorite players since I was growing up," Young said on Sunday night. "To have him talking to me and telling me to come get the ball when he's out there, that's all time confidence."
Hoping to build off a balanced scoring attack, the Lakers face a Nuggets team that is only four games ahead of the purple and gold in the standings. Brian Shaw's Nuggets look headed for another year out of the postseason with 13 wins and 18 losses on the season. In the thin air of Denver, though, the Nuggets still maintain a winning record of 9-7.
Point guard Ty Lawson has started 30 of the Nuggets' 31 games and leads the hosts in minutes, points, assists and steals. The pacey point guard has a habit of ripping the Lakers apart. When the Nuggets came to Staples Center in November, Lawson scored 18 points and delivered 16 assists. The entire Lakers' team combined for 15 assists on that night. As most would guess, the Nuggets won that game.
In fact, the Nuggets have won their last seven meetings against the Lakers with Lawson averaging a double-double during the streak: 21.0 points and 12.0 assists.
Along with Lawson, the Nuggets feature Wilson Chandler and former UCLA Bruin Aaron Afflalo. The pair of wing players combines for 28.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Beyond the shooters, the Lakers struggled harnessing the height of Timofey Mosgov last time out. The Nuggets' center used his length to finish with 13 points and 13 rebounds in the last meeting. Mosgov's work on the boards helped the Nuggets to a healthy edge on the offensive boards. Coming off a game where the Lakers could not pull down a defensive rebound with the game on the line, keeping Mosgov off the glass will be a key to Tuesday's game.
Containing Lawson is obviously another key, but the Lakers have changed starting lineups since the last time these teams met. Moving Ronnie Price into the first unit was designed to help defend opposing point guards like Lawson. Stopping Lawson may not be an option, but Price will be asked to slow down the Nuggets' speedy point guard.
The Lakers and Nuggets will tip off at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.