Two years ago, LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA title in the Orlando bubble, but he had help. One of those key role players on that championship team was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a 3-point marksman and a high-level defensive player.
The way things have started this year, Los Angeles could use Caldwell-Pope on its roster. Instead the Lakers will face him when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Los Angeles has dropped its first three games, and one of the big reasons is its poor shooting. The Lakers rank last in the NBA in shooting percentage at 40.7 and only three of their main rotation players are shooting better than the team average.
Anthony Davis leads the team at 50.9 percent from the field while Russell Westbrook — acquired from Washington in the 2021 summer deal that sent Caldwell-Pope to the Wizards — is hitting just 28.9 percent of his shots.
Westbrook (hamstring) is doubtful to play against Denver. He suffered the injury in a preseason game on Oct. 14.
The frustration is apparent for a franchise annually built to compete for a title, as James expressed after the third straight loss to begin the year.
“The mood right now is you just lost,” James said. “If you’re around a group of guys that are excited after a loss then that’s the worst business that you can be in so that’s the mood right now. But I’ll leave my frustration and what I have here. Once I drive out the tunnel, I’m going to leave it here. That’s it.”
Los Angeles has been solid on the defensive end, and that will be needed against Denver, which leads the league in shooting percentage at 50.1. But defense is an area that needs work for the Nuggets, who are allowing an NBA-worst 124.5 points a game.
They were blown out at Portland 135-110 on Monday night after allowing 44 points to the Trail Blazers in the third quarter and 80 in the second half.
Denver has split its first four games, with a signature win at Golden State on Friday night.
The silver lining in the uneven start is the play of Michael Porter Jr. at both ends of the floor. Porter missed most of last season with a back injury that required surgery, but he has looked sharp so far.
Porter is 16 of 32 from 3-point range, but the biggest leap for him is on defense. In tight fourth quarters in years past, Porter would often be on the bench due to his defense, but he has since shown he can be effective defensively. He played key minutes late in the win over the Warriors and coach Michael Malone has been pleased with his effort.
“He’s committed to trying,” Malone said. “That’s all I ever want. I’m going to make mistakes, players are going to make mistakes, but if you genuinely care and are committed to trying and making the effort, then we’re never going to have any problems. Michael has shown a tremendous amount of growth in that regard.
“I don’t want him to be Scottie Pippen. I want him to be the best version of Michael Porter Jr. he can be, and right now what he’s showing me is that he cares.”
Caldwell-Pope is averaging 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists and shooting 47.6 percent from 3 for Denver. He was acquired in the offseason from Washington as part of the package in which Will Barton and Monte Morris went to the Wizards.
Denver went 2-1 against the Lakers last season.
–Field Level Media