The Los Angeles Lakers are on the brink of being eliminated from the NBA Play-In Tournament, seemingly falling apart just before playoffs get underway in mid-April.
Things would not get any easier for Los Angeles as Nikola Jokic dominated with 38 points, 18 rebounds and six assists, and the Denver Nuggets went on to defeat the Lakers 129-118 on Sunday in a matinee matchup at Crypto.com Arena.
LeBron James, the NBA’s leading scorer, sat out for the fourth time in six games as he continues to recover from an ankle sprain, though he played on Friday against New Orleans scoring 38 points in a defeat.
Denver moved into fifth place in the Western Conference, having won their last four of five games while Los Angeles fell to 31-47 with the loss and trail the 10th place San Antonio Spurs by two games for the final Play-In spot.
“We don’t worry about the math,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We worry about the next game. Learn the lessons from this game, take them to the next game and hopefully get a win against Phoenix (on Tuesday).”
Anthony Davis had 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Russell Westbrook added 27 points and Carmelo Anthony had 17 for the Lakers, who suffered their sixth consecutive loss in a row.
“We didn’t expect to only have 21 games together, but that’s been all year,” Davis said. “The times we were together, we looked good. … That being said, we still have enough (players) to play a basketball game. We will continue to fight this way, give ourselves a chance and see what happens.”
“Nobody is feeling sorry for us and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves,” Vogel said pregame when asked about the constant injuries throughout the season.
Will Barton scored 25 points and Aaron Gordon added 24 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets.
“I think it’s a really important win for us,” Jokic said. “I’m just glad that we’re winning. If we’re playing bad and we’re winning, that’s the most important thing. I think it was really collective play that we did together, but hopefully we can keep it up to separate further and be even better.”
The Nuggets led 62-61 at halftime. Both teams scored 33 points in the third to maintain a back-and-forth pace heading into the fourth but the Lakers would run out of gas late.
Anthony made a jumpshot and a three-pointer two minutes into the fourth period, giving Los Angeles a brief 99-98 lead but Denver responded right back with a 13-5 run.
DeMarcus Cousins made a driving layup and Barton made a three-pointer, followed by a Jokic three-pointer which enabled the Nuggets to take a 111-104 lead with 5:42 remaining.
Westbrook scored five points in 43 seconds to get Los Angeles within six, 122-116 with 2:40 left but Jokic went on to make three throws and a jumper in the final moments to claim a 129-118 victory over the Lakers.
“He’s doing everything he can. … I’m proud of Russ,” Vogel said on Westbrook, who also added 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers.
“What could we have been if I was healthy all year, LeBron, Kendrick Nunn? You think about those things,” Davis said. “When we put this team together, we looked really good on paper, but we haven’t had a chance to reach that potential with guys being in and out of the lineup.”
The Lakers next travel to take on the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s another must-win … must-must win … in Phoenix,” Davis said.