Jockeying For Lottery Position: Lakers Take On Nuggets In Denver


Tonight’s matchup in Denver, which pits two Western Conference bottom feeders (the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers) against one another, is much more about draft position than who wins and who loses.

According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Nuggets have a 50-percent chance to finish with the seventh pick in the 2015 NBA draft. A loss versus Los Angeles will certainly tilt Denver’s lottery odds to the right side of that 50-percent and it would send them on their way to their highest draft selection since they took Carmelo Anthony in 2003 with the third overall pick. I recently detailed five prospects that Denver might have their eye on in the draft.

The Lakers, who currently own the fourth-worst record in the league (20-56) and have lost 15 of their last 19, would be advised to adopt a similar tanking strategy as well. Their first-rounder (top five protected), which they sent to Phoenix in exchange for Steve Nash, looked like it would get forked over to Phoenix after the Lakers decided to start winning games for some reason. However, after this recent slide, Lakers fans can rejoice that barring a nonsensical collapse, they will have a top-five pick to go along with Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, and company.

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The Nuggets (losers of four in a row, and eight of their last ten) seem to be, as Drake said in the track Underground Kings “getting back to their old ways” after a two week stretch where it seemed interim coach Melvin Hunt had turned the corner with this group.

Through 18 games under Hunt, Denver has posted a monotonous 8-10 record, and the enthusiastic banter that accompanied Hunt’s 6-2 start as head coach has faded. Ty Lawson has looked lethargic since the All-Star Break, while Jusuf Nurkic may have hit a “rookie wall” as the season winds down, finding it difficult to get in a groove under Hunt’s guidance. Despite their struggles, there are still things to smile about in Denver.

As he has for the majority of the second half of this season, Danilo Gallinari continues to be Denver’s most effective player throughout this recent stretch — he is averaging a team-high 16.5 points per-game over his last ten games.

Jameer Nelson, whose bandwagon I’ve been driving for these past few weeks, is averaging 13.7 points, while shooting nearly 50-percent from the field over his last ten games. Ty Lawson has been outplayed by Nelson and he is putting up a second half to forget — over his last ten, he is averaging just 11.8 points per game on 40-percent from the field, despite playing 11 more minutes per-game than Nelson.

The Denver offense, which struggled to score a pedestrian 92 points (38-percent shooting from the field and 27-percent from three) in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Saturday, should find those buckets a little easier to get against the Lakers. The Clippers are the second-worst defense in the league statistically, giving up 107.5 points per-100-possessions and allowing opponents to shoot a healthy 46.4-percent from the field (third worst in the NBA).

The offense will also get an added boost from Lawson, who is expected to suit up after missing Saturday night’s game against the Clippers. Nelson and forward Darrell Arthur are not expected to play.

Denver will likely be picking somewhere between the sixth and eighth spots in this summer’s NBA draft as they battle for lottery position with the Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings. With five games left, this season is winding down, but there is a lot left for Hunt, Lawson, and the rest of this roster to prove.

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