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Big changes coming for Lakers? Plus, who would you start your NBA franchise with?

The Bounce Newsletter :basketball: | This is The Athletic’s daily NBA newsletter. Sign up here to receive The Bounce directly in your inbox.

We’re going to blink and suddenly be in the second round of the playoffs. Before blinking, though, let’s check in with Shams!

The Latest From Shams

Inside a Lakers’ season gone wrong

The Nuggets eliminated the Lakers from the postseason last night, wrapping up the teams’ first-round series in five games. That unflattering finish leaves Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s future as head coach in serious peril, multiple league and team sources tell The Athletic, with some stakeholders indicating it’s highly unlikely he’ll return.

The plan is for Los Angeles to reassess everything that went wrong in the coming days before making a final decision. The Lakers face two franchise-defining questions: Where did Ham go wrong, and will LeBron James stay in Laker Land?

Sam Amick, Jovan Buha and I explored those topics and much more after the Game 5 loss. Zach has more on both the Nuggets and Lakers.

Nuggets done with Lakers … for now …

It happened again, guys. The Lakers fought the Nuggets all game long and led for a good chunk. LeBron James was great. Anthony Davis was good but briefly got hurt. Austin Reaves was good. But then it came down to the Lakers needing to make more plays down the stretch than the defending champs. Eventually, the Lakers’ fate was in the hands of Jamal Murray, and there was nothing they could do about it.

This time, with the game tied, he ran a pick-and-roll against Reaves and Davis with seven seconds left in the game and five seconds on the shot clock. Murray went left, pulled up around 14 feet from the basket and let it fly over Reaves’ outstretched hand – splash, cash money, records. Because the Lakers were out of timeouts, Taurean Prince caught the ball from LeBron and heaved a 40-footer that didn’t come close. Ball game. Season. On to the next one for Denver.

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Overall, the Lakers led the Nuggets for 165 minutes and 24 seconds in this series, which saw 240 minutes of game action. Denver closed it out in five games despite outscoring LA by 11 points for the entire series. But this is what the Nuggets do to the Lakers. They torture and tease them with a glimmer of hope before extinguishing their season. Denver had the Lakers in a “Saw” movie sequel. But it’s not even one of the good early ones. It’s a number-behind-the-title “Saw” that makes you feel like it’s a typo that never was corrected.

This was carefully crafted destruction that was far more painful than just getting dominated in a sweep. Nikola Jokić had a sloppy but productive night, finishing with 25 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists. Murray shook off a calf injury to demand he played and led everyone with 32 points. And Denver moves on to continue its title defense. Now I’ll ask myself a bunch of questions about this series and others as well.

What’s next for the Lakers? They enter the offseason, try to convince LeBron James to stay and, at some point, make a decision on Ham.

What’s next for Denver? The Nuggets get four days off until the Minnesota Timberwolves visit Denver for Game 1. This is a rematch of last year’s first-round series. Denver won that in five games. We’ll preview this series later this week.

What happened in Game 4 of Celtics-Heat? Boston cruised to another victory! Miami made it as interesting as possible. Ultimately, Derrick White’s career-high 38 points buried the Heat for the 102-88 victory. The biggest part of this game, though, was Kristaps Porziņģis leaving with a calf injury. It was feared to be an Achilles’ injury, but he seems to have avoided a worst-case scenario. We may not see him until Round 2.

What’s next in that series? Game 5 is in Boston on Wednesday. Miami needs to win to keep its season alive.

Anything else happen last night? The Thunder completed the sweep of the Pelicans. OKC moved on to the second round for the first time since 2016, when Kevin Durant was still there. The 97-89 win over New Orleans was led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams both going for 24 points. The Pelicans rest easier knowing they missed their best player, but they always miss their best player come postseason time.

What’s next for OKC? They await the winner of Mavericks-Clippers. That series is tied at 2-2.

What’s next for the Pelicans? Scroll down to find out!

Team-Building Talk

Who would you start your franchise with?

As Anthony Edwards decimated the Suns over the last week, a discussion broke out in one of my group chats. We were trying to figure out where Edwards would go in a draft to pick a player to lead your franchise.

We all agreed that 29-year-old Jokić is the top selection here. You’re guaranteed title contention for the next few years. We also agreed 20-year-old Victor Wembanyama probably goes next. I’ll remind you Wemby was the top pick in our Anonymous Players Poll. Luka Dončić (25) was also in that range. We then debated who finishes out the top five between Giannis Antetokounmpo (29), SGA (25) and Edwards (22).

I was shocked people picked Giannis over Edwards, despite the seven-year age difference. I argued they were closer in caliber of player than they are in age. The other contingent wanted the known production and impact of The Greek Freak now instead. It’s now time for us to turn to you, the Bounce reader. You get to settle this debate by voting!

Do us a favor? Please? Click this link so you can vote for the player you would select to start your franchise! Now, I know someone out there loves to vote for Thanasis Antetokounmpo when it comes to our Bounce polls. Let’s try not to do that this time. Although, we thank you, Giannis, for subscribing to the newsletter.

Are you team Ant? Team SGA? Team Giannis? Team someone we didn’t mention? Let me show my friends how wrong they were – Bounce Style.

Goodbye, Pelicans

New Orleans has something, but will it grow?

Maybe the Pelicans weren’t going to win the series anyway, but Zion Williamson playing in the first round left New Orleans open to a sweep by OKC, which is exactly what happened. Zion couldn’t show us what he can do, meaning he’s still never played in the postseason. So, what’s next for the Pels? Let’s say goodbye to their season and look to the summer.

New Orleans’ bright spot from this season? Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones continued to really show how impactful they can be, but the real takeaway was the play from Zion over the last couple months. He became a point-forward monster and started playing inspired defense. Before his hamstring injury, he started looking poised for elite stardom.

Key free agents for New Orleans: Jonas Valančiūnas, Naji Marshall, Cody Zeller

Biggest position to address: Playmaking lead guard, interior force.

What’s the draft pick situation? They have the option to swap picks with Milwaukee, which would currently move them from 23rd to 21st. They also can take the Lakers’ pick (17th) or defer it to next year.

Will they have cap space? This is likely a luxury tax team, so no.

2023-24 yearbook quote: “Fly, Pelican! Fly!”

Bounce Passes

Draymond Green, who did not make the playoffs, is mocking Jusuf Nurkić for not winning a playoff game.

Wolves fans get to see their team in the second round for the second time ever. Enjoy it.

Kawhi Leonard is injured again, so that’s hanging over the Clippers again.

Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Game of the Night: 76ers–Knicks (7 p.m. TNT). Will Philly fans invade Madison Square Garden? Will Joel Embiid step up? Will Jalen Brunson punch New York’s second-round ticket? Will I ask another question?
  • Keep an Eye On: Pacers-Bucks (9:30 p.m. TNT). Milwaukee will likely be shorthanded, so Indy can start the team’s summer.
  • NBA TV Game: Magic-Cavs (8 p.m.). We’ll see if Orlando can take its home cooking to Cleveland. Full schedule here.

(Top photo: Bart Young / Getty Images )

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