James hopes to keep Lakers on upswing vs. Nuggets

The Los Angeles Lakers stumbled out of the gate to start the LeBron James era, but they have quickly turned things around. Now they’re going to one of the toughest venues in the NBA to try to regain some momentum after a disappointing 108-104 loss to the Orlando Magic.

Los Angeles (11-8) will take on the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, a difficult road game for most teams because of the altitude. But James has led a resurgence after a 2-5 start, giving the Lakers some confidence despite Sunday’s setback to Orlando.

And they received some more good news with point guard Rajon Rondo is getting closer to returning from a broken right hand. He was cleared for non-contact basketball activities and while he is not going to play in the near future, it helps that he is making progress.

Without him L.A. has become stagnant and turnover prone. The offensive pace, one of the highest in the NBA, has slowed in the five games Rondo has missed and the Lakers have committed 41 turnovers in their last two games.

“One of our league leaders in assists has been out with a broken hand, so that has something to do with it,” James told the L.A. Times when asked how the team gets back to moving the ball like it used to. “But I think we have the right intentions to go out there and share the ball, when guys are open we try to find them. Sometimes we’re missing guys.”

James will face a Denver team that has been good at moving the ball early in the season but has struggled with consistency in recent weeks. The Nuggets (13-7) started out 9-1 lost six of seven and have now won three straight.

Saturday’s win might have been their most impressive. They beat the streaking Thunder in Oklahoma City on the second game of a back-to-back and did it without shooting guard Gary Harris. Harris left Friday’s win against Orlando with left ankle soreness and was held out Saturday.

Torrey Craig started in his place and had a big game, including a game-sealing offensive rebound – his 10th rebound of the game – in the final minute. He also hounded Russell Westbrook into a 6-for-23 shooting night.

“He plays hard, man,” center Mason Plumlee told the Denver Post on Saturday night. “That’s something that we appreciate. He gave us a huge lift. We don’t win the game without him.”

Craig could get more playing time against L.A. if Harris can’t go. Denver listed him as questionable after practice on Monday.

Even without Harris the Nuggets can score. Point guard Jamal Murray has bounced back with three good games after struggling for a few games. He had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists against Oklahoma City and will renew a budding rivalry with Lakers’ point guard Lonzo Ball.

Last year L.A. took exception to Murray dribbling around Ball as the clock ran out on a Denver win. The Lakers got a measure of revenge by handing the Nuggets their first loss of the season on Oct. 25.

Tuesday could provide more fodder for a burgeoning rivalry.