For the first time in these 2023 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers lost Game 1 and trail in their series.
The final 132-126 score between the Lakers and Nuggets reflects a competitive shoot-out between both teams. However, it was definitely a tale of two halves, as the Nuggets were the only team consistently making anything in the first two quarters to take a 72-54 lead into halftime.
That lead was inflated by a record-breaking performance from Nikola Jokic, as he continues to build an individual playoff performance that, again, causes the NBA world to reconsider recent MVP voting. The Lakers, sadly, wasted an impressive performance from Anthony Davis that was overshadowed by Jokic’s, as he tallied 40 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.
Jokic still was a terror in the second half, however, not as much in the first half. An adjustment made by head coach Darvin Ham and the team leads us right into our preview for Game 2 on Thursday.
Have Lakers’ adjustments already been made?
Each playoff series has so many adjustments from game to game. In the Lakers’ last playoff series against the Warriors, Jarred Vanderbilt did as good of a job you can do defending Stephen Curry in Game 1, until the Warriors’ defense made the Lakers pay for having Vanderbilt and his poor offensive game on the floor. The Warriors also started involving Davis in high pick-and-rolls, taking him out of the paint where he was blocking anything that came in. The Lakers, for the most part, stayed with what they believed was the right game plan until surprisingly starting Dennis Schroder for Vanderbilt in the final, and decisive, game.
We will be seeing adjustments from not only the Lakers in Game 2, but the Nuggets as well. This will be due to the fact that the Lakers may have already offered their counter to the knock-out punch the Nuggets delivered to them in the first half in the way that they were defending Jokic.
The Lakers tasked Rui Hachimura to get underneath him while Jokic waited for passes to come to him in the post, with Anthony Davis roaming on the weak-side to deter any passes Jokic would be making after trying to drive past Hachimura.
It worked well enough for the Lakers’ offense to get itself back in the game, only being down by 3 points with possession with 54.2 seconds left in the game — despite being down by 20 with 2:16 left in the 3rd quarter.
The downside to this is that the Lakers may have made this adjustment too soon, allowing the Nuggets to have film at the ready to figure out how they can counter it if they go to it again. This worry can especially nag at any Lakers fan heading into Game 2 when you consider the very optimistic quotes from Nuggets head coach Mike Malone and forward Michael Porter Jr. when talking about that specific adjustment the Lakers made.
Michael Malone: “Much is being made of them putting Rui Hachimura on Nikola Jokic like we’ve never seen that before.”— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) May 17, 2023
Compounding that worry is that outside of Davis and Hachimura, the Lakers don’t really have many other options to guard Jokic 1-on-1. Mo Bamba is still out (despite some optimism being reported on Wednesday) — and, to be honest, his lack of weight and strength seems like it would be an issue against Jokic. LeBron James could work in theory, however, I’m sure he and the staff would like him guarding the best big man in basketball as little as possible.
There are plenty of other sub-plots to this story that both the Lakers and Nuggets would love to solve in Game 2. Will D’Angelo Russell score enough to stay on the floor consistently (or even stay in the starting lineup) while being taken advantage of on defense? Will Aaron Gordon, after missing all 3 attempts on Tuesday, hit enough 3-pointers to keep the Lakers’ defense honest? Do the Lakers need to figure out different pick-and-roll coverages to not only keep Jokic at bay but also Jamal Murray, who had 31 points on Tuesday?
Both teams are sure to feel good about their adjustments coming into Game 2, but who will end up vindicated with the series rolling to Los Angeles afterward?
Notes and Updates
- The Lakers will be without Mo Bamba (left ankle soreness), while LeBron James (right foot soreness) and Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) are listed as probable.
- The Nuggets have not released their injury report at the time of this publishing. Jamal Murray (non-COVID illness) may be listed as questionable like he was for Game 1. as he is currently dealing with an ear infection. However, even if he is, don’t let that designation make you think he might not play in Game 2 after his great performance in Game 1 with the illness.
The Lakers and Nuggets will tip off at 5:30 p.m. PT with the game exclusively televised on ESPN.
You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.