NBA: LeBron, Lakers avoid first-round sweep with win over Denver

NBA: LeBron, Lakers avoid first-round sweep with win over Nuggets

/ 01:00 PM April 28, 2024

LeBron James Lakers beat Nuggets Game 4 NBA playoffs

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) shoots as Denver Nuggets forward Peyton Watson (8) and center Nikola Jokic defend during the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers finally cracked the Denver Nuggets’ mastery of this rivalry and extended their NBA playoff lives for at least another game.

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, LeBron James led the way.

James scored 30 points, Anthony Davis added 25 points and 23 rebounds, and the Lakers avoided postseason elimination with a 119-108 victory over Denver in Game 4 of their first-round series Saturday night.

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D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves scored 21 points apiece for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who snapped their 11-game losing streak against the defending NBA champions with their first win over the Nuggets since December 2022.

A series with clear patterns and rhythms finally changed in the Lakers’ favor. For the fourth straight game, Los Angeles took a double-digit lead before the Nuggets rallied in the second half behind Nikola Jokic.

But for the first time in this series, the Lakers didn’t wilt under the defending champions’ pressure. The 39-year-old James scored 14 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-8 shooting, again carrying the Lakers late in his 21st NBA season.

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Game 5 is Monday night in Denver.

READ: NBA Playoffs: LeBron, Lakers facing elimination

“We’ve given ourselves another lifeline, and it’s a one-game series for us,” James said. “Monday’s game is the most important game of the season for us, and we understand that.”

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Denver swept Los Angeles out of the Western Conference finals last season, but the current Lakers responded to this 0-3 deficit with a performance more worthy of a team that rolled into the postseason with 12 wins in 15 games.

“We get another opportunity to go play one more game, and if we win, come back and play another one and keep moving from there,” Reaves said. “Odds aren’t stacked in our favor, but anytime we can keep ourselves floating above water and give ourselves an opportunity to do something special, we’re up for the challenge.”

Jokic had 33 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for his 18th career triple-double and second in this series, but the two-time MVP and his teammates couldn’t reassert their usual late-game dominance over the Lakers.

The Lakers’ 19-point lead with just over six minutes left dwindled to 113-106 on Jokic’s three-point play with 1:25 to play, but Reaves hit a short jumper before adding four free throws in the final minute.

Denver ultimately couldn’t overcome yet another slow offensive start in a series full of them.

READ: NBA: Nuggets on the brink of sweeping Lakers with Game 3 win

“Of course we want to (start faster), but I learned in horse racing, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Jokic said. “We didn’t finish today really well, so hopefully we can do a better job. But yes, we want to be up and control the game, but it seems like that didn’t happen to us.”

Michael Porter Jr. had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Denver, and Jamal Murray scored 22 points while going 0 for 4 on 3-point attempts. Aaron Gordon had just seven points for the Nuggets after putting up 29 in Game 3 during the highest-scoring playoff game of his career — but offense wasn’t the Nuggets’ problem, according to coach Michael Malone.

“The paint (defense) was a joke,” Malone said after his team allowed a whopping 72 points in the paint.

“Every huddle, I sounded like a broken record tonight,” Malone added. “Every huddle was, ‘Paint, paint, paint.’ (In) Game 3, they had 70 and we found a way to win. Tonight, they had 72. That’s an incredible number. … I just didn’t think we had the requisite physicality or urgency. This did not seem like a closeout game.”

The second-seeded Nuggets also lost a closeout game in last season’s first round while up 3-0 on Minnesota, but Denver won that series in five games and lost only three more times on the way to its first title.

While Jokic was prolific and James seized the spotlight late, Davis was outstanding for the fourth straight game. His 23 rebounds matched his career playoff high, and he even shared the Lakers’ team lead with six assists.

“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.”

The Lakers showed no quit in their dire circumstances in Game 4, pounding the ball inside for 44 points in the paint during the first half and taking their fourth halftime lead of the series.

The Lakers stretched their advantage to 15 points in the third quarter and kept building until the final minutes, when Jokic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sparked a Nuggets rally.

“They were really pushing the pace,” Jokic said. “They had open layups. They were destroying us in the paint. We couldn’t make a shot. They couldn’t make a shot either (at times), but it seems like that affected our defense a lot. That’s a great team.”

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Reggie Jackson played nine minutes for Denver despite spraining his ankle in the second half of Game 3.

Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy-winning former USC quarterback and the No. 1 overall pick in this weekend’s NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, watched the game from courtside.

TAGS: Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers

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