Emmanuel Mudiay never played college basketball, but he gave Denver Nuggets fans a taste of the NCAA Tournament with his latest highlight.
The Nuggets' recent road games have left them feeling a different kind of March Madness, but they have dominated recent visits to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Denver will seek a sixth consecutive road win in the series Friday night while attempting to tighten up its defense on an opposing court.
Mudiay chose to forgo his chance to play at SMU and instead headed to China. That decision paid off for the point guard with a top-10 selection in the NBA draft and a starting job for the Nuggets.
He had one of his finest performances in his fledgling career Wednesday when he scored 27 points, capped by a 35-foot buzzer beater, in a 104-103 victory against Philadelphia. Mudiay also grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
"I was thinking of March Madness because anything can happen," Mudiay said.
That feeling of open possibility hasn't extended to the Nuggets' playoff chances, and their recent road struggles are largely to blame for pushing them further out of contention. Denver (30-42) has given up an average of 115.8 points on 52.1 percent shooting while dropping five of six away from home.
The Nuggets have yielded 103.8 per contest in their five consecutive road wins over the Lakers (15-56) while prevailing by an average of 11.4 points.
They won 120-109 in their only other visit this season Nov. 3 and for the 11th time in 13 overall matchups March 2. D.J. Augustin had a season-high 26 points and Mudiay scored 22 in that 117-107 victory, which gave Denver a 2-1 edge in the 2015-16 series.
The Lakers enter this season's final matchup having lost five of six, and a 119-107 defeat in Phoenix on Wednesday put them one step closer to their storied franchise's worst finish. They won 19 games in 1957-58 while in Minneapolis and had a .256 winning percentage last season by going 21-61.
Los Angeles had 13 assists - one shy of matching a season low - against the Suns after registering at least 20 in three consecutive games. The Lakers had 21 in a 107-100 victory over Memphis on Tuesday that snapped a four-game home losing streak.
"We've all been 'the guy' our entire lives. Eventually, we've got to realize that everybody's got to sacrifice something," forward Julius Randle told the Lakers' official website after registering team highs of 19 points and 15 rebounds. "Really figure out how everybody plays around each other, what works best for each other and learn how to play with each other instead of us all try to do it ourselves."
Kobe Bryant is set to play his last of 83 games against the Nuggets, a total that includes 17 in three postseason series victories, but he has been dealing with a sore right shoulder. His 31.9 scoring average in those playoff matchups was his highest against any Western Conference opponent.
Bryant has averaged 24.8 points in 65 regular-season games against the Nuggets and had 31 in a 111-107 road victory Dec. 22. Shoulder issues limited him to 10-plus minutes and five points in the loss earlier this month.
The Nuggets might not have Kenneth Faried, who had 28 points and 15 rebounds in the road win over the Lakers in November. He's missed the past four games due to an ailing back.