The day was defined by the emotional unveiling of Kobe Bryant’s statue, a depiction of the Lakers legend wearing his iconic No. 8 jersey with his taped right index finger pointing to the sky. Before the ceremony, the Lakers decided not to make a move at the NBA trade deadline because the asking prices were not to their liking.
It was against this backdrop that the Lakers went out and played the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena — the same Nuggets who swept them in the Western Conference finals last season and had beaten them six consecutive times.
The losing streak reached seven games after the Lakers were unable to keep up with the Nuggets in the final moments of a 114-106 defeat.
Even with Anthony Davis scoring 32 points, LeBron James finishing with 25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and Austin Reaves producing his fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 assists, the Lakers couldn’t win after tying the game 104-104 with 2:18 left.
Denver outscored the Lakers 10-2 over the final stretch behind the splendid play of Jamal Murray (29 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds), Michael Porter Jr. (27 points, eight rebounds) and Nikola Jokic (24 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists).
To honor Bryant’s legacy, the Lakers won their Black Mamba uniforms, which were co-designed by Bryant. Even the fans were given Bryant’s No. 8 jersey as a gift.
But the Lakers had to turn their attention to the Nuggets.
The Lakers came home from a six-game trip with a 4-2 record, posting impressive wins in Boston and New York and finishing it off with a win at Charlotte on Monday. They anticipated a tough one against Denver.
“Obviously they are the defending champs and the way things ended last year, it’s going to be extra hype and attention to this game and this matchup,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “But I’m looking at it more as a progress report for us, us on a current three-game win streak. Finished the road trip with three quality wins, so seeing where we’re at constantly. It’s not playoff time quite yet, but again we’re trying to make our way to be in position. So, just looking at ourselves, first and foremost.”
Earlier in the day, the Lakers looked at ways to improve their team through trades. But in the end, they decided to stay with the group they have.
“We had hundreds of [deals] come our way,” general manager Rob Pelinka said. “But the right one just didn’t present itself and so we’re in the position we’re in.”
D’Angelo Russell was one of the prominent names that constantly came up in trade rumors. But with the way his play improved, the Lakers decided to keep him.
But Russell didn’t play against the Nuggets because of left knee soreness.
Ham said he misspoke when he said after practice Wednesday that Russell had a procedure.
“Well he had — I used the word ‘procedure’ and everybody loses their mind or whatever. I think I meant to say treatment,” Ham said. “He had a little maintenance treatment that is normal, perfectly normal. It wasn’t a procedure.”
Max Christie started in Russell’s place and sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t not return.