Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Lakers are finally getting the job done to end their infamous losing streak against the Nuggets

LOS ANGELES – Screams echoed throughout the Crypto.com arena. It happened again.

The Nuckets were suddenly within seven points of the Los Angeles Lakers 3 minutes, 41 seconds into the third quarter of the 4th quarter after Denver's Michael Porter Jr. drove in Gabe Vincent. The Lakers appeared on the brink of another slump, another sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, another offseason to reassess their position in the Western Conference.

The crowd grew quiet and nervous. The Lakers bench looked uncomfortable.

However, on the next possession, D'Angelo Russell had a bounce-back game after Game 3's duck egg, drawing the attention of several Nuggets defenders and firing a no-look pass to the Vincent 3 in the right corner. Three possessions later, Anthony Davis outran Porter and Nikola Jokic, connected on an offensive rebound — one of his playoff career-high-tying 23 boards — and Darian Prince kicked the ball for a 3.

Crisis averted, at least temporarily.

The Lakers won 119–108 to snap an 11-game losing streak against Denver and take Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoff series. It was Los Angeles' first win over Denver since December 16, 2022, nearly 500 days ago. The Lakers still trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, but sidestepped key upcoming offseason questions about head coach Darwin Hamm's status, LeBron James' future, what the roster will look like next season and more. in days.

Meanwhile, they have a chance to extend their season even further in Game 5 on Monday.

“Well, our only chance is to play the next game,” James said. “We've given ourselves another life. We've given ourselves another lifeline, this is a streak for us.

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After falling three games into the second half, the Lakers kept pace with the Nuggets in Game 4. After entering Game 4 minus-42 in the second half of the series, they were outscored 60-58 in the second half.

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Through four games, the Lakers have led 70.8 percent in 192 of 136 minutes of the series. By contrast, the Nuggets led just 21.8 percent of the minutes in the series, and the score was tied the remaining 7.4 percent.

Despite leading for two-thirds of the way through the series, the Lakers' loss of three of four games was an indictment of their Game 2 loss when they blew a 20-point lead in the final 22 minutes. If the Lakers had held on and won that game, the series would have been tied 2-2, and the Lakers would have had more momentum despite having home-court advantage.

“I want us to win (the series) 4-0,” Lakers guard Austin Reaves said. “Opportunities are not stacked in our favor. But any time we can float above water, we have a chance to do something special. We are up for the challenge.

As much as anything, the Lakers' success is important to their psyche.

The Lakers, whether they admit it or not, have had the nuggets in their heads to an extent. Anytime a game gets close or the Nuggets go on a stretch run, the Lakers start to tighten up and panic. Denver is the best team and especially, the best crunch time team. But the Lakers should have won at least some of those 11 losing streaks.

That the Lakers were up for the challenge in Game 4, saving their season and finally killing some of the stories associated with their Denver demons, is a testament to the team's fight and spirit.

“A beautiful day to be alive to be alive,” said Hamm. “That's yesterday's news and today's news. A win in just one game. We have to refocus, regroup and have the same mentality going into Denver.

James led the Lakers with 30 points (14-23 shooting), including 14 in the fourth quarter. Eighteen of his 23 shot attempts came in the paint, as he bombarded the Nuggets with a steady diet of bully ball. He charged to the rim, posted mismatches and hit turnaround jumpers. The 39-year-old superstar continues to hunt Jokic in pick-and-rolls.

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Davis had 25 points (11-of-17 shooting), the aforementioned 23 rebounds, a team-high-tying six assists and a team-high one block in 42 minutes. Jokic had 33 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists on Saturday and was the best player in the series. He is the best player in the world and the favorite to win his third MVP. But Davis has made the fight more competitive than it was last season, stretching his big-man teammate. For the series, Davis averaged 30.5 points (on 62.2 percent shooting) and 15.8 rebounds per game.

“AD doesn't have to prove anything to anybody,” James said. “He's one of the best big men we have in the game, one of the best big men in the world. He's shown that again through the first four games.

Reaves added 21 points and a team-high six assists. Hachimura scored a series-high nine points in a season-low 22 minutes. Prince scored a series-clinching nine points in 29 minutes, 17 of which came in the second half.

But the swing performance came from Russell, who rebounded from his Game 3 donut to score 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including four 3s. After benching Russell in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals last season, Hamm stuck with Russell and kept him as the starter.

I have a lot of faith in him,” Hamm said.

When relayed that message postgame, Russell, who declined two requests to speak to reporters after Game 3, gave a confident response.

“I appreciate that, but I just believe in myself more than anybody,” Russell said. “I don't need it, but I appreciate it.”

The Lakers did most of the little things right in Game 4. They outrebounded Denver 46-40, holding Aaron Gordon to three rebounds and zero offensive boards, 15 and 5, respectively, in Game 3. LA beat Denver by 14. -5 in second chance points. They also dominated the paint battle, outscoring the Nuggets 72-52.

No NBA team has ever recovered from a 3-0 series deficit. But if there's one player who has experienced a significant comeback, it's James, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 3-1 series victory over the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. In a similar vein, James is the NBA's all-time leader in 30-point performances in elimination games with 19.

“Monday's game is the most important game of the season for us, we understand that, we know that, so the point where you lose, you're done,” James said. “You will win, keep going.”

The Lakers are confident they can keep going. Meanwhile, Game 5 will be their biggest test yet.

The Lakers are 0-3 in Denver this season and just 21-23 on the road (including the in-season tournament, play-in tournament and playoffs). Denver will certainly have extra motivation after losing a closeout game and finally giving life to the Lakers. “The ballroom crowd will be excited to chant,who is your father” and end the Lakers season.

Despite Game 5 and the series' conclusion, Saturday's win removed a tough mental barrier from the loss and made this a more casual basketball series.

“It's hard to sweep,” Davis said. “No one wants that feeling, especially going into the summer. You have to live with that feeling all summer. So we didn't talk about it. We knew what was at stake. No one wants that feeling in your mouth all summer. The way we played tonight is the way we have to play for the rest of the series.” said.

(Top photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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