3 Things to Know: Lakers vs Nuggets 052223

Three Things to Know: Lakers vs. Nuggets, Game 4, WCF: 5-22-23

The Lakers (0-3) face elimination for the first time this postseason, with Denver (3-0) in town for Monday evening’s Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. The game tips at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN and 710 ESPN radio.

Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:

It happened quickly. The Lakers, having narrowly lost Game 1 in Denver, were in position to win Game 2, close to establishing home court advantage like they had in the first two rounds. Then the Nuggets went on a big run in the third quarter, erasing a double-digit lead, and finished the game.

Down 2-0, the Lakers in Game 3 made various rallies, including one to take the lead in the third quarter, then another in the fourth, with the Crypto.com Arena crowd swelling … only to endure another Nuggets push.

When the final buzzer rang on Saturday night, the prospect of being down 3-0 loomed large. And yet, that simply isn’t how the players or the coaching staff can be thinking heading into Game 4. They have to fight the instinct to think about how tough it would. be to win four straight games against a very good opponent, and focus on Game 4. 

“I mean, just got to get one,” summarized LeBron James. “Just one at a time. Just focus on Game 4, and you know, that's all you can really think about. I mean, obviously this game is over and done with. We had some opportunities, but we didn’t come through.”

“I think the deficit is 3-0, not 4,” added Darvin Ham. “So as long as they have not gotten to four yet, there's still hope. We're still alive. We just have to focus on winning one game.”

The Lakers hadn’t lost a playoff game at home prior to Sunday, and had not lost at all since March 26. That home-court advantage hasn’t gone anywhere, despite Denver’s emergence with a victory, and will be vital if L.A. can entertain to dream about the improbable.

“Take it one game at a time,” echoed Anthony Davis. “Come Monday, leave it out on the floor, and try to get a win. Take it to Game 5, Game 6, Game 7. That's all you can really do. Go back tomorrow -- we'll go tomorrow and look at the film and see where we can get better, especially late game both ends of the floor, and then get ready to line them up on Monday and try to keep the season alive.”

Coming off a series against the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history in Golden State, the Lakers seemed prepared to contest what the Nuggets do from distance. But through three games, Denver just hasn’t missed a lot. 

Game 1: 15 for 32 (46.9%)
Game 2: 14 for 38 (36.8%)
Game 3: 17 for 41 (41.5%)

Jamal Murray got Denver going in Game 3, no doubt, hitting four of their seven first half triples. Nikola Jokic has hit 5 of 11 from deep in the series. With the focus of the defense on those two, you have to live – or in this case die – with others getting shots up. Denver’s just hit a bunch of them.

“I think it's been the timely shots by their role players,” summarized LeBron. “Obviously I think the KCPs and Michael Porter Jrs. And Bruce Browns, even Jeff (Green) hit a big-time timely shot (in Game 3) when we were kind of going on a run. I think it's been the supporting cast that have kind of made those timely shots that's allowed them to kind of have the edge.”

“Jamal Murray got hot early on in the first quarter, and then their other guys, Michael Porter, KCP, Brown, I think all them guys were over 15 points,” added AD. “They made some tough shots, some big shots for them down the stretch as well.”

For the series, MPJ is at 47.8% from 3; Murray and Jokic, both 45.5%; KCP, 45.0%; Bruce Brown, 40.0%; Jeff Green, 40.0%. 

The only two players to play real minutes that haven’t hit a three are Aaron Gordon (0 for 6) and Christian Braun (0 for 3).

Were Denver to have even one significant piece missing threes, that would have made a major difference for the Lakers. But … they have not. And they get credit for that.

One of L.A.’s primary areas of separation from opponents late in the season, and especially in the first two rounds, was their ability to defend without fouling, and draw fouls on the other end.

In the regular season, they were +294 in foul differential. They led all teams in Round 1 at +18, and were +42 against a smaller Golden State team.

Yet against Denver, that’s been all even, at 58-58.

The primary drivers of those statistics are LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the guards – D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Dennis Schröder – have pitched in considerably. Against the Nuggets, however, L.A. have been at a size disadvantage on the perimeter. And the ask on LeBron especially to continue to attack the rim, at 38 in his 20th season, is considerable, particularly due to how much energy he’s had to expend to get the team to this point.

If the Lakers are to win Game 4, the foul battle is one to watch.