The Los Angeles Lakers have lost five games (that matter) in a row. All five of those losses have come against the Denver Nuggets.
After being swept in the Western Conference Finals, the purple and gold went into Denver on Opening Night looking to make a statement. The statement the team made was not the one that was intended, as the Lakers fell 107-119 in a game that looked eerily similar to last season’s Western Conference Finals.
There were a lot of bright moments for the Lakers throughout the game but when it really mattered in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets proved to be the more equipped team to win. The Nuggets suffocated the Lakers, reminding LA that this is still Nikola Jokic’s league.
Lakers prove that they still aren’t on the Nuggets level.
The NBA season is a very long one and losing on Opening Night to the Nuggets doesn’t mean that the Lakers cannot beat Denver in a playoff series when it matters. But if the Lake Show is going to do that then growth is needed. If these two teams enter the playoff in the same situation they are in on Opening Night then the result will be the same for LeBron James and Co.
It ultimately came down to late-game execution. A Denver run with LeBron James off the court gave the Nuggets a cushioned lead that allowed the team to absorb anything the Lakers threw at them. Los Angeles threw a lot as well, as there was plenty of quality basketball being played by the Lake Show.
Los Angeles cut the lead to as little as three points in the fourth quarter as it looked like the tide had shifted. Instead of carrying that momentum throughout the quarter, the Nuggets did the exact same thing they did in the Western Conference: they came through when it mattered.
It was 92-89 with nine minutes left to play. That is when Jokic and the Nuggets kicked it into gear, scoring 27 points in the final nine minutes to put the purple and gold away. Denver made 10 of its next 12 attempts once it was a three-point game to put their Western Conference foes away. By the time that run ended, the game was all but over.
Darvin Ham’s team doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel or do anything drastic. The team just needs to continue to get better as the year goes along and needs to play better crunch-time defense. This was exactly what happened in every fourth quarter in the Western Conference Finals. If the Lakers don’t solve this equation then they will never get past the Nuggets.