is Lakers Come Back and Win This Series?

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 119-108 in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series on Saturday night to advance to the NBA Finals. Jamal Murray (30 points) and Nikola Jokic have the Denver Nuggets one win from the Western Conference title.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Austin Reeves scored 20+ points for the Lakers in the loss, but it wasn’t enough to stay pace with Denver. Now the Lakers needed to win four straight to win the pennant. First NBA Finals., but the Lakers faced something else that could only be played.

On Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Los Angeles, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray passes over Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder Ashley Landis/AP.

Nikola Jokic struggled in foul trouble, while Jamal Murray went silent after a scoreless first half. Game 3’s fourth quarter saw the Denver Nuggets’ significant early lead evaporate, and the Lakers’ home audience went wild.

Jamal Murray appears to be the Lakers’ only competition.

Late in a playoff series, it can hit a team like a ton of bricks to realize they have little chance of stopping the opposing team’s star player. This is the norm after five or six games of tinkering. However, by halftime of Game 3, the Lakers had already exhausted every possible strategy. They have nothing to offer by way of rebuttal to Jamal Murray.

Lakers come back
Lakers come back

They started the game with their usual lineup, and even though Jarred Vanderbilt had a decent matchup against Murray, Denver could quickly flip him over to D’Angelo Russell. In the first quarter, Murray roasted Russell for 15 points in a hurry off the dribble, and Russell had no chance. After that, the Lakers realized they couldn’t keep Vanderbilt’s offense going for much longer and went to Dennis Schroder.

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Even that question was answered by Murray. He drove Schroder into the post and finished him with turnaround jumpers, just like he had done in the previous round against Landry Shamet. The Lakers were so desperate at the end of the second quarter that they even let LeBron James take a shot at Murray. However, James could not keep up with Murray in Denver’s intricate scheme, and Murray took advantage by sinking some threes.

It’s not like Darvin Ham forgot to make a tweak or is sitting on a bench player. The Lakers are making no sacrifices. No one on their roster can match Murray’s blend of speed, strength, and talent.

The ship has sunk

Darvin Ham deserves the blame for this one. He continued to deploy the same starting lineup he used throughout the playoffs. As a five-person squad, James, Russell, Vanderbilt, Davis, and Reaves lost by 11 points over 26 minutes spread throughout Games 1 and 2. The opening six minutes of the game on Saturday saw it get outscored by six points, but Ham nonetheless started the third quarter with the same lineup. Once again, it was outscored, but this time by a single point; however, remember that Nikola Jokic sat out a significant portion of that period due to foul trouble.

In theory, they make a good fit. It has a Russell hole in the defense and a Vanderbilt hole in the offense. As a whole, the ensemble has been performing admirably since it first came together in February. But the combination of Denver’s ability to wiggle Vanderbilt off of Murray and Russell’s offensive explosion in this series has rendered the game unmanageable.

Only James, Davis, Reaves, and Rui Hachimura have consistently contributed to the Lakers in this series. Those four players have accounted for about 82% of the Laker team’s total point output (276 of 337) so far this game. All of them made it by playing defense. However, the Lakers have not been able to find a fifth player that gels with that unit, and no one else on the team has contributed significantly. Maybe there’s a lineup Ham hasn’t tested yet that would make the players they’ve used so far into a viable unit, but as it stands, the Lakers don’t appear to have enough depth to advance in the series until those four players each play at least 40 minutes per game.

Is LeBron entering a new chapter?

Consider some of the most memorable postseason games LeBron has played in. In 2012, the Celtics were blown out by 45 points. His consecutive 40-plus-run games after Cleveland was behind 3-1 against the Warriors in 2016. The eighty points he put up in 2018’s two Game 7s. When he has nowhere else to turn, James shines. He is challenging to eliminate and ranks among the NBA’s all-time greats. That’s why his third-game performance was so shocking.

On 8-of-19 shooting, James scored 23 points. The Lakers’ offense benefited greatly from his post-ups, but his passing was the primary reason. When the Lakers needed a superstar to take control of the game, James could not deliver. Perhaps that’s because his foot ailment hasn’t fully healed. In December and January, the Lakers had James, who dominated games.

But this could begin a new era in LeBron’s career. Perhaps he can’t, on-demand, have 40-point games against elite competition any longer. A clearer picture of James in his twilight years will emerge next year. I’m sure he’s well enough to lead us on one last classic playoff run. The Lakers are doomed to lose to the Nuggets with James in this form. He appears human again for the first time in 20 years.

One more victory, and Denver will be in the Finals.

Here in Los Angeles, that’s all we’ve got time for. The Denver Nuggets will likely establish a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. With a victory, they will make franchise history by reaching the NBA Finals for the first time.

Final thoughts

With two minutes left in the game, Denver has an 11-point advantage over the Lakers. The Lakers offense is too slow to catch up to the rest of the league. The odds favor Denver taking a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Attempt that failed

Dennis Schroder pulled on Nikola Jokic, leading to his fifth foul, and Darvin Ham’s challenge of him was dubious at best. The Lakers are in the midst of a desperate period.

It’s possible Denver just sealed the deal.

The Lakers have utterly collapsed, and the Nuggets have already won 13 straight games. The Nuggets have a 106-96 advantage with just over four minutes remaining. Can the Lakers pull off a miracle, or will the Nuggets quickly go up 3-0?

Murray scores the game’s first points in the second half.

Even though Jamal Murray scored 30 points in the first half, he was held scoreless for more than 17 minutes of the second. The Lakers’ deficit widened to 10 points after his 3-pointer, his first point of the second half.

Demoralizing threes in a row

The Lakers held a one-point lead, but the Nuggets tied the game with a pair of 3-pointers from two of their worst shooters. After seven minutes of play, the Nuggets lead by five points to baskets from Jeff Green and Bruce Brown.

Rui best exemplifies that arc versus Jokic.

Rui Hachimura and Nikola Jokic found themselves in precarious defensive spots during that period. Against a shallow Laker lineup, Jokic was left to defend the perimeter alone. Without Anthony Davis to cover his back, Hachimura had a one-on-one matchup with Jokic. During that span, every play was based on exploiting that mismatch on both sides of the ball; however, with Davis’s return, things should return to normalcy.

To take a risk

The Lakers finally rested Anthony Davis at the beginning of the fourth, leaving Rui Hachimura to defend Nikola Jokic without any support from his teammates. Davis has been temporarily sidelined, but the Lakers should have him back on the court soon. A relationship like that can’t last forever.

The Lakers finally rested Anthony Davis at the beginning of the fourth, leaving Rui Hachimura to defend Nikola Jokic without any support from his teammates. Davis has been temporarily sidelined, but the Lakers should have him back on the court soon. A relationship like that can’t last forever.

How long can LeBron and AD play together?

LeBron logged 33 total minutes through three quarters. Anthony Davis played in 34 games. How much downtime can the Lakers get for themselves in the final quarter? Or are they not going the last mile?

Yet another nailbiter

With 12 minutes remaining in Game 3, the Lakers are down by only two points. A total of 11 points decided the first two games of this series. The series will close at 2-1 if they complete the comeback. The series is virtually over at 3-0 if the Nuggets can hold off the Warriors.

LeBron discovers his shooting form.

After shooting 0-for-13 on 3-pointers in this series, LeBron James has just made two in a row to trim Denver’s lead to two. What a perfect time it is for James to start making his shots.

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