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NBA Preview: Denver Nuggets (35-16) at Los Angeles Lakers (27-25)

After a six-game road trip that brought optimism back to the Los Angeles Lakers, their return home brings another significant challenge.

The Lakers will play host to the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Thursday, after a 4-2 road trip that ended on a three-game winning streak. The NBA trade deadline arrives earlier Thursday, and the resurgent D’Angelo Russell might be a possible trade piece.

It will be a busy day as the Lakers also are set to unveil a statue of Kobe Bryant in the plaza outside of Arena.

The Lakers received a huge lift on Feb. 1 when they beat the host Boston Celtics 114-105 in a game where stars LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (hip) were out.

With the duo back two days later, the Lakers ended the host New York Knicks’ nine-game winning streak with a 113-105 victory. The Lakers won their third in a row, topping the Charlotte Hornets 124-118 as Anthony Davis had a 26-point, 15-rebound, 11-assist triple-double.

The Lakers’ up-and-down season has brought some uncertainty regarding their potential. They began the season 3-5, then won six of their next seven games and later won the inaugural NBA in-season tournament.

The Lakers endured a 3-10 stretch that included reported friction between players and head coach Darvin Ham. Now, Los Angeles is 8-4 since Jan. 15 with plenty of help from Russell, who grows more valuable by the day to the Lakers and teams ready to make a deal.

Seemingly in a post-championship hangover, starting the season 14-9, the Nuggets are 21-7 since Dec. 11 and 7-2 since Jan. 19.

Denver arrives at Los Angeles after consecutive home victories over the Portland Trail Blazers when Nikola Jokic averaged 28 points and 15 rebounds, including a season-best 22 rebounds on Friday.

Denver still is trying to sharpen its championship form as evidenced by the need to rally from a nine-point deficit in the third quarter against the Blazers and a 14-point deficit on Sunday. The Nuggets outscored the Blazers 52-40 in the second half on Sunday.

While Jokic continues to deliver, the Nuggets like what they saw Sunday from a pair of young players in Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, who combined for 16 points and played solid defense down the stretch.

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