The Lakers return back home to Los Angeles down 0-2 in the Western Conference Finals. It certainly hasn’t been an ideal start to the series for the Purple and Gold, but at the very least, they return back to comfortable territory where they will get a chance to even up the series.
The Lakers’ script to success this postseason has been: To steal home-court advantage by winning at least one of the first two games on the road and then winning out at home. They didn’t get to do that in Denver but that doesn’t mean they can’t rewrite the script. Obviously, it’s hard to feel confident about this team right now but it’s even more difficult to ponder on what they could’ve done to steal at least one game in Denver.
Sure, we can go on about how the Lakers have significantly struggled in transition (they’ve given up 42 points combined on this end in both games). How Los Angeles just can’t seem to win the rebounding battle (the Nuggets are averaging 48 rebounds per game compared to the Lakers’ 35). How the Lakers continue to give up second-chance opportunities and just can’t seem to take advantage of Denver’s lack of rim protection as frequently as they’d hope. How LeBron James and Anthony Davis — in what seems like the first time ever — haven’t looked like the best players on the floor thus far in this series.
Ultimately, this series is what it is right now, because Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and their crew have risen to the occasion to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Now, it’s time for James, Davis and their crew to respond.
As the series shifts to Los Angeles, the Purple and Gold can only hope that all the work, and the process they’ve put into this series so far finally gets rewarded with a victory (or two) at home. Whether it’s their shooting regressing to the mean, role players finally outplaying Denver’s own supporting cast, or James and Davis simply finding their mojo at home, here’s what may or may not happen in Game 3:
Can the Lakers still play better than they did?
The Lakers absorbed Denver’s strongest punch in Game 1 and countered a little too late by forcing a comeback in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, the goal was to limit Jokic — who rendered 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists — and while Joker’s impact wasn’t as strongly felt as Game 1, it was Murray who ended up beating the Lakers, scoring 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter.
Simply put: The process was there for the Lakers. The adjustments felt right. They executed their Xs and Os. They had the Rui Hachimura game. The defense was commendable, as James alluded to post-game. But they really just got beat by Muray’s fourth-quarter avalanche and the Nuggets’ impressive play in the fourth quarter.
Now, it’s time for the Lakers to return the favor on their home floor, where they remain undefeated in the postseason. Can the Lakers get more productive production from D’Angelo Russell (who has struggled mightily all series), Dennis Schroder, and Lonnie Walker IV? This is the game where James and Davis also have to impose their dominance because as fatigued as they are, 22 and 18 points respectively won’t cut it against this Nuggets team.
The way the Lakers respond in Game 3 will say a lot about where the direction of this series is headed.
Will fatigue get in the way?
Speaking of fatigue, it was evident in the middle of Game 2 that Davis and James — who have now both played a total of 81 and 79 minutes respectively in the past two games — had no legs. It’s probably also the reason why both superstars end up chuckling shots instead of attacking the rim. It’s probably why Davis doesn’t get in transition so quickly and why the team as a whole commits low IQ-esque turnovers down the stretch.
James in particular shot 0-6 from the 3-point line, including two attempts that drastically shifted the momentum to the Nuggets’ side in the fourth quarter. Davis had one of his worst shooting performances from the field, making only 4 out of his 15 shots. On top of all that, both are expected to guard Jokic and anchor the team’s defense, which to their credit, turned out well.
Now with their backs against the wall and the pressure mounting, the question is if both superstars (who are also playing through foot injuries) can keep their motors running. We saw how the Lakers burned out Stephen Curry last series and their opponents in the past.
This time, the tables have turned, as fatigue is going to be another challenge for both Davis and James to fight through. One way for them to combat this is to find themselves sitting on the bench early, enjoying a blowout win, quite similar to how they did in the Game 3s they’ve played in this postseason this year.
Now down 0-2 against the Nuggets, history says that the Lakers have a 7.4% chance to come back and eventually win the series. They’ve been through harder adversities this season and have defeated far greater odds. They’ve responded several times; now, it’s time to do just that again on their home floor in order to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Notes and updates
- One note to look out for before heading to Game 3: The Denver Nuggets were subpar on the road this season after finishing 19-22 outside of Denver for the year. They’re also 2-3 on the road in the Playoffs so far.
- For the Lakers injury report, the team listed Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) and LeBron James (right foot soreness) as probable.
- Meanwhile, Mo Bamba (left ankle soreness) is listed as out.
- As for the Nuggets, everyone is good to go.
- For news around the league, the NBA Draft Combine took place on May 16-18. If you want to read more about the upcoming draft class and their performance in the Combine, do so here.
The Lakers and Nuggets will tip off at 5:30 p.m. PT. on Saturday. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.