The Los Angeles Lakers kick off the 2023-24 season on the road against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. This rematch from the Western Conference Finals is more than just a rematch as these two have created an intense rivalry that has drawn the interest of both fanbases.
Denver is getting its championship rings prior to the game against the Lake Show, which is going to add more fuel to the Lakers’ fire. This team is built to win a championship and with this being a title-or-bust season, watching the Nuggets celebrate (after sweeping LA last season) will be the perfect motivation.
Beating the Nuggets would be a great first step toward putting together a very title-winning season. While the first game of an 82-game season won’t determine the rest of the season, it will still be nice to see the purple and gold come out on top with a statement win.
Regardless of whether that happens or not, there are going to be very specific players in this game that decide the outcome. We all know the stars are the most important, but what about the role players?
3 role players that will decide the outcome of Lakers-Nuggets:
1. Austin Reaves
It feels unfair calling Austin Reaves a role player and it might only be weeks until we start referring to him as a star. As of now, though, he is still a role player and he is going to be the most important role player in this game.
Reaves is the third-best player on the Lakers and him having a good night can push the team over the edge. While the Lakers have a lot of scoring options to turn to, getting Reaves going early and making sure that he has a big night could be imperative to the team’s success.
Denver swept LA in the Western Conference Finals because of strong scoring nights out of the backcourt that LA could not match. If the Lakers are going to win this game, the team needs to flip the script.
2. Christian Braun
There are several role players that have bigger roles on the team. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr and Aaron Gordon are all in the starting five and will play a big role in the game. However, the role player who can send it over the top to ensure a Denver win is Christian Braun off the bench.
Braun is stepping up into the Bruce Brown role as Brown signed a two-year deal with the Indiana Pacers. Brown was imperative in the Western Conference Finals as he was part of the scoring barrage from the backcourt.
Braun does not need to come into the season with a 25-point game but the Nuggets are going to need someone who can get a few buckets off the bench to match up with the Lakers’ depth. Because of his new, elevated role, Braun is that guy.
3. Jaxson Hayes
This is a weird one as in most cases Jaxson Hayes may not even see that many minutes in the Lakers’ rotation. But because of this matchup and the fact that Jarred Vanderbilt is hurt, the Lakers are going to need Hayes for a specific reason.
Los Angeles needs Hayes’ athleticism and shot-blocking ability to make Nikola Jokic’s life harder in this game. With Vanderbilt not playing, the Lakers do not have a great defensive option in the frontcourt outside of Anthony Davis. Taurean Prince is fine, but his size does limit him in this specific matchup.
There may be instances where Hayes is playing either next to Davis or even next to Christian Wood and his defense is going to be the difference maker. With Davis, Hayes can form a dynamic duo that protects the rim. With Wood, Hayes will be responsible for masking some of the defensive inefficiencies.