May 20, 2024

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NBA Playoffs: Lakers avoid elimination, snap 11-game losing streak to Nuggets

NBA Playoffs: Lakers avoid elimination, snap 11-game losing streak to Nuggets

Let Game 4 be a lesson for everyone. Nobody beats LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 12 times in a row.

For the first time since December 16, 2022, the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets, with a 119-108 win on Saturday to avoid a first-round exit. They are still down 3-1, with the series heading back to Denver.

Game 5 is scheduled for Monday at 10pm ET (TNT).

The Lakers also made a big splash simply by building a double-digit lead and then not losing. All three of their losses in the series so far have seen them go up by at least 10 points in the first half, lead at halftime, and then completely tear apart in the third quarter en route to the loss.

They lost by as many as 11 points and by just two, but all three were downright frustrated against an opponent that swept them in the Western Conference Finals last season.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, right, shoots as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. defends during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrell)

The Lakers really did it. They didn't blow a double-digit game against the Nuggets. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrell)

You couldn't blame anyone for expecting the worst when the Lakers' lead reached 10 points in the second quarter or entered halftime with a 13-point lead. The third quarter was still approaching.

When the third quarter ended, the Lakers had already lost to Denver. Two points, to be exact. They were able to get it back to 15 early in the fourth quarter and didn't look back from there, although there may have been a quick look when the Nuggets cut it to seven with 85 seconds left. The Crypto.com Arena crowd was happy to at least avoid a sweep.

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The difference was mostly felt in defence. Nikola Jokic scored 33 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 14 assists while Michael Porter Jr. (27 points) hit his shots, but the physicality and relentless effort stalled the game for the rest of the Nuggets' rotation. Jamal Murray scored 22 points, but was very poor on ineffective 9-of-23 shooting. Game 3 star Aaron Gordon only had seven points and three rebounds. The Nuggets bench collected five points.

The Lakers committed the fewest fouls in the NBA during the regular season, but they were clearly willing to risk a whistle if it meant preventing easy paint appearances. That led to Denver having a free throw advantage of 25 to 14 before starting to foul in overtime, a rarity for a Lakers rival. It was worth it to make the Nuggets uncomfortable.

With Anthony Davis once again emerging as one of the NBA's best two-way players, Los Angeles outscored the Nuggets 72-52 in the paint.

However, the highlight of the game came thanks to James, when he incredibly hounded Murray in the third quarter. The play was so reminiscent of his legendary play in the 2016 NBA Finals that ESPN play-by-play man Dave Pasch told his color commentator, former Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers, to cover his eyes.

Even with a win, there is still a sign of trouble on the horizon for the Lakers. When an out-of-bounds play was called on James, he loudly urged Lakers head coach Darvin Hamm to challenge the play. Hamm didn't do it, and James was clearly so angry that he forgot to play defence, Giving Denver an easy basket.

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Considering that Davis also indicated frustration with Hamm in this series, you can't imagine Hamm's seat getting any less hot after Saturday.

This is the problem with grouping everything together to avoid the scanning process. History says it won't matter, as no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. The Nuggets are talented and well-coached enough that you have to imagine they'll be able to adapt to what the Lakers did and put them away next week.

However, the Lakers were not down 3-0. It's fun when opposing fans laugh at them for blowing three straight double-digit leads, but you have to be good to hold a 10-point lead over the Nuggets. The winning ingredients were there in every game, the only difference being the Lakers kept it together on Saturday.

No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, but few have erased a 3-1 lead and that's what matters now. Especially when James gives you a reason to remember the 2016 Finals.