When you are trying to explain why a team needs an identity, this game is a case study.
The Lakers identity is still forming, and when you combine that with tired legs on a back-to-back (at altitude in Denver) you get sloppy.
The Nuggets know exactly who they are — they are athletic, balanced and they run. Every chance they get.
That identity exploited Lakers season-long struggles with transition defense. The result was a 119-108 Denver win that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. And the Nuggets did it without Danilo Gallinari, who is out with a thigh bruise.
It’s a game that left the Lakers rooting for Boston (the Celtics beat the Jazz in overtime) because Los Angeles is going to need some help to make the playoffs.
Denver did a great job of playing to their strengths, and with that dictating the tempo and flow of the game. Pretty much whatever Denver did worked. Kenneth Faried put out more energy and effort than all the Lakers bigs combined. Andre Iguodala had 12 assists and was serving as a playmaker. JaVale McGee was a defensive presence.
It all worked and from early on — the Lakers hung in for most of the first quarter but they were playing Denver’s game. You could feel the change coming, and it arrived when the Lakers started coughing the ball up.
Lakers turned the ball over eight times in the second quarter and that fueled the Nuggets, who were off and running. And the Lakers transition defense was as flat footed as ever. The result was 67 first half Nuggets points on 56 percent shooting. Denver had 50 points in the paint in the first half — they would go on to have a ridiculous 78 for the game. The Lakers shot 60 percent and had 54 points at the break, but 12 first had them down 13.
The second half was just more of the same. Any time the Lakers would make a run Faried or McGee would get a block, Ty Lawson would lead the break and pretty soon the Nuggets were running past the Lakers.
Wilson Chandler had 23 points to lead Denver, Lawson added 22 — that is seven straight games for Lawson over 20 points. Kobe had 29 points but it didn’t matter, the Lakers fall back, two games below .500.
They are starting to figure out who they are, but when they run into teams that already have figured it out — like the top half of the Western Conference — it’s a tough go for Los Angeles.