Lakers might have figured out a formula to defend Denver’s Nikola Jokic

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, front, shoots while pressured by Lakers forward Anthony Davis during Game 1.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis tries to block a finger-roll layup by Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during Game 1 on Tuesday night in Denver.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers devised a plan on how to deal with the force of nature that is Denver’s Nikola Jokic, a counter plan if that didn’t work and an “escape plan” if that also went sideways against the two-time NBA most valuable player.

As it turned out, the escape plan the Lakers employed in the fourth quarter became a powerful tool and thwarted the effectiveness of Jokic the final 12 minutes.

Yet, overall, the Lakers didn’t do enough early to slow Jokic. He scored, posting 34 points on 12-for-17 shooting, making all three of his three-pointers and seven of eight free throws.


He collected rebounds, grabbing 21, six on offense.

He dished out assists, handing out 14.

It resulted in a triple-double for Jokic, his third straight and fourth in his last five games in these playoffs. This one, in a 132-126 victory, helped the Nuggets open a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Confernce finals.

“Again, it’s not any one coverage that you are going to be able to stay in versus that dude,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “There’s not one person that’s going to stop him. It has to be done by committee and you have to switch up matchups at times and you have to switch up coverages.

“We didn’t want to go too deep into the in-game adjustments. It’s still that ultimate chess game. So, we were comfortable with the results, gave us a chance to get back into the game and it’s one of the things that if we need to go back to it’s there — along with several other things that we didn’t unveil tonight.”

Lakers star Anthony Davis has a huge game with 40 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks but the Nuggets hang on to win Game 1 of series.

May 16, 2023

Anthony Davis started on Jokic and had his hands full, same as every other player guarding him in the playoffs.

But what helped the Lakers slow down Jokic was putting Rui Hachimura on him in the fourth quarter and allowing Davis to roam while keeping an eye on his man, Aaron Gordon.

It worked and made Jokic a bit hesitant when he got inside because Davis was lurking. In fact, Davis blocked a Jokic shot late in the fourth quarter.


It worked because Jokic scored only three points in the fourth quarter, all on free throws.

It worked because Jokic missed both of his shots and had two turnovers.

“Something that we went to, a little adjustment,” said Davis, who had 40 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

“Different adjustments throughout the course of the game. We did end up liking it, stayed with it for a while. Maybe something we go to in Game 2. Obviously we got to go back and look at the film. But just thinking about it now, something that we liked. And to also have me roaming and things like that. Good adjustment.”

Nikola Jokic, center, tries to power his way through the double-team defense of Anthony Davis, right, and Rui Hachimura.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) tries to power his way through the double-team defense of Lakers forwards Rui Hachimura (28) and Anthony Davis during Game 1. Davis was called for a foul on the play.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Hachimura had enough size and strength to disrupt Jokic on the perimeter.

But he always knew Davis had his back behind him.

“I was just trying to stay on his knee,” said Hachimura, who also scored 17 points. “It was a part of our game plan and we talked about it before the game. The coaches told me that I was going to guard Jokic too. It was a good plan and I think the second half we did a pretty good job on him. ... I’m ready. ... I was ready for this moment.”


Even with Davis sticking close to Jokic as the clock was winding down to end the third quarter, the Nuggets center hoisted a three-pointer from 28 feet over Davis’ outstretched hand.

As Davis turned and watched the ball go through the net as time expired, he looked back at Jokic and shook his head. Jokic shrugged his shoulders and smiled back at Davis.

The shot gave the Nuggets a 14-point lead.

After the Lakers made a valiant effort to put themselves in position to steal a Game 1 win in Denver, it was LeBron James who failed to deliver.

May 17, 2023

That was the kind of night it was for Jokic and the kind of playoff performances he has been delivering for the Nuggets.

“That shot, I mean, he just ... I just looked at him and just smiled,” Davis said. “There was nothing else I could have done. Forty feet away from the basket, one dribble, throws it up and it goes in. So, it was definitely one of those nights.

“But we’re encouraged about the second half of the game and there are things we can be better at and make some adjustments for the next game.”