Changes Darvin Ham must make for Lakers to beat Nuggets in Game 2

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game One
Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game One / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

Despite a strong first half and looking like the better team for much of the game, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to steal Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night. Much like the Western Conference Finals last year, the Nuggets simply out-executed the Lakers down the stretch and pulled away with their 11th win in a row in the matchup.

As the road team in the series, all the Lakers need to do is win one of the first two games for it to be a successful start. By winning one of the first two, the Lakers would essentially steal home court in the series. It would become a best-of-five where three of the games are played in LA.

Saturday night may have been frustrating for multiple reasons but the Lakers have to turn the page for Game 2. Head coach Darvin Ham certainly should have learned some things and can implement these changes to ensure a Lakers victory on Monday night.

3 changes Darvin Ham must make for Lakers to beat Nuggets:

1. Don't give D'Angelo Russell so long of a leash

For the fifth time in a row in the playoffs, D'Angelo Russell stunk up the arena against the Nuggets on Saturday night. Russell's shot simply was not falling and if he had just an average night from the floor it would have been a completely different game.

Ham left Russell out there so he could find his mojo and it ultimately did not happen. While it is understandable why a coach wants to trust in his players, Ham has to realize that this is the playoffs and there are only so many chances that the team will have.

If Russell is having the same kind of night then he has to play less, simply put. Ham should not be worrying about "bailing" on Russell, especially considering he has other point guard options that he can turn to. Another 41-minute game with this kind of showing is unacceptable for all parties.

2. Defend Nikola Jokic directly with Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis is one of the best defensive players in the league and the Lakers used him very well in the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs last year. Davis acted as the Lakers' free safety, roaming near the paint and being the team's help defender that deterred teams from coming to the basket.

Ham rolled that game plan out again in Game 1 against the Nuggets and while it has its perks against most teams, the Nuggets are unique. Denver has the best player in the league in Nikola Jokic and the Lakers simply have to change the game plan and guard Jokic straight-up with Davis.

AD is not going to stop Jokic by any means but he definitely can slow him down. There is more value in putting the team's best defensive player on the Nuggets' best all-around player, as evident from the results in Game 1.

AD doesn't need to be chasing Jokic around and defending him 1-on-1 every single time down the court but he needs to be guarding Jokic more than he was Saturday.

3. Stop freestyling on offense

This is one of the most frustrating traits about the Los Angeles Lakers and is one of the most obvious signs of bad coaching. It is currently the NBA Playoffs and the Lakers were treating the second half of this game like it was pick-up at the YMCA and they would call it on the fly.

The Lakers ranked dead last among the eight playoff teams that played on Saturday in organized offense rate. Denver ranked first. In the first half, 62% of the Lakers' offensive possessions (excluding transition plays) were organized sets (meaning plays were called). In the second half, that dipped to 42%.

This has been a trend all season for the Lakers and it simply cannot continue now that the season is on the line. Whether it is because Ham is overestimating the talent on his roster, doesn't know how to draw up enough sets, or is relying on LeBron to essentially coach for him does not matter. He needs to be better.