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How the Lakers dominated Game 1: Five takeaways from the win

Lakers guard Rajon Rondo sets up the offense during Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sept. 18, 2020.
Lakers guard Rajon Rondo sets up the offense during Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Friday night.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

While most of LeBron James’ postgame news conference revolved around the discussion of the voting for the NBA’s MVP award, there was plenty more to talk about after the Lakers’ 126-114 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

Points included the return of Rajon “Playoff” Rondo, the three-point shooting of two veteran role players and defense.

Here are five takeaways from Game 1:

1. Rajon Rondo might not like the “Playoff Rondo” moniker but ever since he hit a stride in his return to the Lakers, he has been a critical part of their playoff success. His defense was pesky for the Nuggets on Friday and he dished nine assists off the bench.

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2. Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided pops of scoring for the Lakers at critical points. They combined to make six of nine three-point attempts. Morris played 16 minutes and his three-for-four three-point shooting accounted for all of his scoring in the game. Caldwell-Pope played nearly 30 minutes and gave the Lakers other scoring as well. Overall, he was six of 10 shooting for 18 points.

3. The Lakers pride themselves on their defense, so they weren’t pleased with how they started the game. They gave up 38 points to the Nuggets, with stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combining for 20, and trailed by two. “We just had to lock in defensively,” Anthony Davis said. “We knew that Jamal and Jokic are going to come out firing, come out trying to score, and we had to make sure that we try and contain them. At times they made some good shots, but our coverages were kind of messed up, so we tried to get back to our coverages and do it the right way.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel knew centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard would be key factors against the Nuggets, and the big men were sharp in a Game 1 victory.

4. The postgame news conferences went in different directions Friday night, but there was one unanswered question: How is James’ left ankle? He injured it when he stepped on the foot of Nuggets forward Jerami Grand during a drive down the lane in the second quarter. While it didn’t force James out of the game, he did leave the court before the game officially ended, presumably to begin tending to it. After the game he had a wrap on it that seemed a little more permanent than the ice wraps he normally covers his joints with after games.

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5. As much as the Lakers were upset about their defense in the first quarter, the Nuggets were upset about their own early defense. But for Denver, defense remained a problem throughout the game. “Even in the first quarter we didn’t guard anybody,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Our offense was able to score ... but there was little defense. A huge point of emphasis going into this series was transition, getting back, makes, misses, turnovers, dead balls. They scored 25 transition points tonight and 15 turnovers for 20 points fueled their break.”


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