Lakers face tough test in Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets at Staples Center

Lakers open five-game homestand and play 10 of next 13 in L.A.
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LOS ANGELES -- For the first time since pushing past them 4-1 in the Western Conference finals last season, the Los Angeles Lakers face the Denver Nuggets at Staples center in a nationally televised contest on TNT at 7 p.m. local time.

The Nuggets enter Thursday night’s game at 12-8 overall and the No. 4 team in the West. Denver’s last game, a home contest scheduled against the Detroit Pistons on Monday, was postponed because Detroit did not have the required eight players available due to the NBA’s safety and health protocols.

The Nuggets defeated the West-leading Utah Jazz last week, 128-117 in Denver, ending Utah’s 11-game winning streak.

The Nuggets have won seven of their last 10 games and are 7-3 on the road. After finishing 5-2 on the team’s seven-game road trip, the Lakers returned to Los Angeles, where they begin a five-game homestand and will play 10 of their next 13 games at Staple Center during the month of February.

“Every time you play against one of the best teams in the league, there’s always that measuring stick or concept in your mind,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said about facing the Nuggets. “But we really want to have a big-picture mindset more than anything. We’re still looking at different combinations, getting this year’s new guys up to speed with what we’re doing and creating this year’s identity, which is always going to be slightly different from year to year.

“But we’re doing some really good things and looking forward to the matchup tomorrow.”

Nikola Jokic leads the Nuggets, averaging 26.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. He’s joined by guard Jamal Murray, who averages 18.9 points and 4.4 assists a contest.

Lakers new addition center Marc Gasol’s ability to matchup against Jokic should come into play on Thursday.

“We didn’t sign Marc for any individual matchups,” Vogel said. “But playing against some of the better centers in the league and having a defensive presence to sort of tag team with Anthony (Davis), with what he’s able to do but don’t want him to do full-time, that was part of that job description. So, knowing that Marc is an elite defender definitely weighed into us bringing him to our team. But it wasn’t based on individual matchups.”

Lakers big man Anthony Davis knows his team will have their hands full containing Jokic.

“He’s a hell of a player,” Davis said about Jokic. “He’s playing extremely well this season. He’s able to shoot the ball, score out of the post. He’s able to pass, so he does it all for their team. He brings the ball up, and their guard sets screens for him and he’s running the action. So, I think it’s a different dynamic that we probably haven’t seen this year. It’s always fun going up against a player like that.”

One thing the Lakers would like to do is get Davis going more consistently. Davis has missed three games this season due to nagging injuries, but has played better of late, averaging 25.8 points and eight rebounds a contest over his last five games played.

Also, LeBron James (12,679) is three field goals away from surpassing Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain (12,681) for No. 3 on the all-time list. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list with 15,837 field goals.