Lakers treating Game 5 against the Nuggets ‘like a Game 7'

Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (15) talks to the Lakers' LeBron James (23) during the second half.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, talks to Lakers forwards LeBron James, center, and Anthony Davis during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday. James and Anthony are dealing with some soreness heading into Saturday’s Game 5.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

When the time came for the Lakers to finish off an opponent in the Western Conference playoffs, they wasted little time in disposing of the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets.

That time has arrived again for the Lakers.

They have a 3-1 lead over Denver and the Lakers can end the Nuggets’ season with a win in Game 5 on Saturday night at AdventHealth Arena on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The Lakers are 2-0 in close-out games in the playoffs, having beaten the Trail Blazers and Rockets 4-1 after dropping the series opener.


“Our group’s demeanor in all of these playoff games has been to treat everyone like a must-win,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said via videoconference after practice Friday. “I would say that same mindset has applied to the close-out games we had against Houston and Portland, and we know those are always the most difficult wins to get in a series, and we expect this to be no different.”

The one Laker who must prove he can play at a consistently high level for them to win a championship? It’s not LeBron James. It’s Anthony Davis.

Conversely, the Nuggets have been in this hole twice before and advanced. They were down 3-1 to the Utah Jazz in the first round and to the Clippers in the second round, and the Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome the deficit twice in one postseason.

“People out there probably think this is exactly where we want them. It’s not,” Denver coach Michael Malone said in a videoconference call. “We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position. Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”

If the Lakers win, they will reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

They’ll have to play their best knowing the Nuggets won’t give in.

“They’re going to give us their best shot,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said during his media session. “They’re not going to let up. They’re a really good team, very well coached. We understand that. We’re one step closer to our dream, so we’re not going to take our foot off the gas. I think we’re going to bring more intensity than we brought before. We have a well-experienced group of guys on our team, even coaches. We understand how important this series is and this game is, and that we should treat it like a Game 7 with our intensity and our effort, and just play as hard as we can.”

The Lakers also have two injured stars. Anthony Davis suffered an ankle injury in Game 4 and LeBron James has a thigh injury

“Both are experiencing some soreness,” Vogel said, “but are good to go.”

For the 3rd consecutive playoff series the Nuggets trail 3-1. The Lakers are aware of Denver’s penchant for comebacks, which starts Saturday in Game 5.

Howard was more than good to go in starting at center for the first time in the playoffs.

It was more than his 12 points and 11 rebounds that made a difference in Game 4. It was his defense on Denver center Nikola Jokic. Howard played with intensity, physicality, effort and determination.

“Just try to go in and be a star in my role,” Howard said. “Play great defense, get as many rebounds as I can, control the paint, and make sure to take pressure off the rest of the guys on the floor on the defensive end by just being active, communicating and making sure we get a stop every time down, or force them to one shot.”