Lakers finally finish the job to end infamous losing streak against Nuggets

LOS ANGELES — The groans spread throughout Arena. It was happening again.

When Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. finished a dunk after driving past Gabe Vincent, the Nuggets were suddenly within seven points of the Los Angeles Lakers with 3:41 left in the third quarter of Game 4. The Lakers appeared on the verge of another collapse, another sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, another offseason of re-evaluating their standing in the West.

The crowd quieted and tensed up. The Lakers’ bench appeared uneasy.

Yet, on the next possession, D’Angelo Russell, having a bounce-back game after Game 3’s goose egg, drew the attention of multiple Nugget defenders and fired a no-look pass to the right corner for a Vincent 3. Three possessions later, Anthony Davis outdueled Porter and Nikola Jokić to corral an offensive rebound — one of his playoff career-high-tying 23 boards — and kicked the ball out to Taurean Prince for another 3.

Crisis averted, at least temporarily.

The Lakers went on to prevail 119-108 to snap their 11-game losing streak to Denver and take Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. The victory was Los Angeles’ first over Denver since Dec. 16, 2022, nearly 500 days ago. The Lakers still trail the best-of-seven series 3-1, but have staved off major impending offseason questions about head coach Darvin Ham’s status, LeBron James’ future, what the roster will look like next season and more for at least another couple of days.

In the meantime, they have a chance to further extend their season in Monday’s Game 5.

“Well, the only opportunity for us is just to play the next game,” James said. “And we’ve given ourselves another life. We’ve given ourselves another lifeline, and it’s a one-game series for us.”



‘We know that we have to be better’: Nuggets’ flaws finally cost them against Lakers

After three games of falling apart in the second half, the Lakers’ offense maintained pace with the Nuggets in Game 4. They were only outscored 60-58 in the second half after entering Game 4 minus-42 in second halves in the series.

Through four games, the Lakers have led in 136 of the series’ 192 minutes, a 70.8 percent clip. The Nuggets, by contrast, have only led for 21.8 percent of the series’ minutes, with the score tied in the remaining 7.4 percent.

The fact that the Lakers have lost three of the four games despite leading for more than two-thirds of the series’ minutes is even more of an indictment on their Game 2 defeat, when they blew a 20-point lead over the final 22 minutes of the game. Had the Lakers held on and won that game, this series would be tied 2-2, with the Lakers holding more of the momentum despite the Nuggets having homecourt advatange.

“I obviously wish we won (the series) 4-0,” Lakers guard Austin Reaves said. “The odds aren’t stacked in our favor. But anytime we can keep ourselves floating above water, we have an opportunity to do something special. And we’re ready for the challenge.”

As much as anything, the Lakers’ victory was important for their psyche.

Whether the Lakers admit it or not, the Nuggets were in their heads to an extent. Anytime a game got close or the Nuggets went on an extended run, the Lakers would start to get tight and panic. Denver is the better team and, especially, the better crunch-time team. But the Lakers should’ve won at least a few of those 11 consecutive losses.

That the Lakers were ready for the challenge in Game 4, saving their season and finally slaying some of the narratives associated with their Denver demons, is a testament to the group’s fight and spirit.

“Beautiful day to be alive in order to stay alive,” Ham said. “That was the message yesterday and the message today. Just win one game. And we’ve got to refocus, recalibrate and have that same mindset going up to Denver.”

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

Davis had 25 points (11-for-17 shooting), the aforementioned 23 rebounds, a team-high-tying six assists and one block in a team-high 42 minutes. Jokić, who had 33 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists on Saturday, has been the best player in the series. He’s the best player in the world and is the favorite to win his third MVP. But Davis has made the duel more competitive than it was last season, matching and even outplaying his big man counterpart for stretches. For the series, Davis is averaging 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 bigs we have in the game, one of the best bigs in the world. And he’s showing that again through the first four games.”

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

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

I’m very confident in him,” Ham said.

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

“I appreciate that, but I believe in myself, simple as that, more than anybody,” Russell said. “I didn’t need that, but I appreciate that.”



Trotter: Lakers, D’Angelo Russell avoid succumbing to Nuggets and history (for now)

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

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. But if there’s one player with considerable comeback experience, it’s James, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 3-1 series comeback over the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. Of similar relevance, 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, and we understand that and we know that, so it’s that stage where you lose, you’re done,” James said. “You win and you keep going.”

The Lakers are confident that they can keep going. At the same time, 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 the Lakers life. The Ball Arena crowd will be chomping at the bit to chant “Who’s your daddy?” and end the Lakers’ season.

Regardless of the outcome of Game 5 and the series, Saturday’s win cleared a heavy mental hurdle from the losing streak and turned this into a more normal basketball series.

“It’s tough to get swept,” Davis said. “Nobody wants that feeling, especially going to the summer. You’ve got to live with that feeling for the rest of the summer. So we didn’t really talk about it. We know what’s at stake. Nobody wants that feeling in your mouth for the rest of the summer. The way we played tonight is the way we have to play the rest of the series.”

(Top photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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