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Nuggets have playoff spot in mind facing Lakers

The Denver Nuggets enter their game at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday in a three-way tie for eighth place in the Western Conference with 15 games remaining.

The Nuggets (37-30) have won two in a row, including a 125-116 win against the visiting Lakers on Friday. Denver enters Tuesday with the same record as the Utah Jazz and also tied in the standings with the Los Angeles Clippers (36-29), who have played two fewer games.

The Nuggets have not qualified for the postseason since 2013.

“We’re getting there,” Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters after a 130-104 win against the visiting Sacramento Kings on Sunday. “Every game, I think we’re moving forward.”

The Lakers (30-36) are coming off an impressive 127-113 win against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Even with the loss to the Nuggets last week, Los Angeles has still won seven of its past nine games. The Lakers are 6 1/2 games behind the Nuggets, Jazz and Clippers with 16 games left.

Julius Randle outplayed LeBron James in Sunday’s matchup, finishing with a career-high 36 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. James had 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

“He was pretty special,” Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters after the game. “Showed a lot of what he can do. The crazy thing is, I still think he can be better.”

Randle seemed to agree.

“It was something I always knew I could do,” Randle said. “Just take time to continue to learn the game, continue to grow and develop as a player, as a person. Something I knew I could do. I’m not surprised but it feels good I guess.”

A key matchup to watch against the Nuggets is Denver center Nikola Jokic against Los Angeles center Brooke Lopez.

Jokic is coming off his seventh triple-double of the season, totaling 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in 30 minutes against Sacramento.

“Every time he does something, it’s amazing,” Denver forward Wilson Chandler said of Jokic. “But, it’s kind of expected.”

Lopez has scored at least 20 points in three straight games for the first time since the first three games in November. He scored 29 points in the loss to Denver last week, converting 12-of-18 shots.

Jokic played his first full game against Los Angeles this season and totaled 21 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Lopez also got the better of Jokic in their first meeting on Nov. 19, mainly because Jokic and Malone were ejected in the second quarter after Malone walked on the court while the ball was in play to object a no-call on Jokic, who was also ejected after joining the argument.

Lopez took advantage of Jokic’s absence to score 21 points in the 127-109 win by Los Angeles at Staples Center.

The Nuggets and Lakers met two weeks later in Denver and Jokic didn’t play after spraining his ankle two days earlier. Lopez scored 15 points in the 115-100 win by the Nuggets.

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