Lakers’ focus narrows to one game, one win at a time over Nuggets before Game 4

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, left, talks to forward LeBron James along the sideline during a break in play.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham, talking to forward LeBron James during Game 3, says of his team’s Game 4 preparation in the Western Conference finals while facing elimination: “We just have to worry about one game, what’s exactly in front of us.”
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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The Lakers gathered Sunday to watch film with the idea that they could solve this puzzle in the Western Conference finals that is Denver. They remain confident that this group can overcome the long odds that no team in NBA history has ever beaten when having faced such dire circumstances.

The Lakers trail 3-0 in the best-of-seven series that the Nuggets have controlled because of their better play during all the key moments.

No team in the NBA has ever dug out of that playoff hole, the teams on the wrong end of that having gone 0-149.


“You’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” Lakers guard Austin Reaves said. “Obviously, you see the numbers and, like you said, it’s never been done. You think about just winning four games in a row, I’m sure there’s a lot of guys in this gym that have won four games in a row. Maybe not against the same team, over and over again, but if we put our best foot forward every day, every game, you know, we’ll have a chance.”

The Lakers heard the chatter after they lost Game 3 on Saturday night at Arena and again Sunday at practice. They will hear it again before Game 4 at home Monday night.

They are one game away from elimination.

Denver won Game 3 with another fourth-quarter push the Lakers could not match. It’s a reminder that the Nuggets have been the best in the West this season.

May 21, 2023

“We’re alive, man. The series is not over,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after practice. “People want to throw out the odds. Yeah, don’t get me wrong. We’re facing a hell of a ballclub, one talented bunch that’s very well coached. But we have things that we can do as well.

“The only thing we have to do is just focus on one game. We don’t have to be overwhelmed about the outside noise or the overall series. We just have to worry about one game, what’s exactly in front of us.”

In many ways, the Lakers have been up against gloomy prospects this season and have found a way to survive.

When they started the season 2-10, their analytical department told the Lakers they had a 0.3% chance of reaching the playoffs. Yet here they are in the conference finals.


When they were in 13th place in the Western Conference as late as Feb. 25, the possibility of making the playoffs looked remote. Yet the Lakers still have a chance to continue in the playoffs with a victory Monday.

However, this feels and looks different this time. The Nuggets are a determined and talented team.

Their two stars, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, have essentially been too much for the Lakers to handle in the series. Murray is averaging 35 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He is shooting 52.1% from the field, including 45.5% from three-point range.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic scores easily on a layup past Lakers forward LeBron James.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic scores easily on a layup past Lakers forward LeBron James during Game 3 on Saturday night at Arena.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Jokic is averaging a triple-double of 27 points, 14.7 rebounds and 11.3 assists. He is shooting 52.6% from the field, including 45.5% from three.

And Murray and Jokic are getting plenty of help from Denver’s role players such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is averaging 15.3 points per game while shooting 51.4% from the field and 45% from three; Michael Porter Jr., who is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds while shooting 47.8% from three; and Bruce Brown, who off the bench is averaging 14.3 points per game and making 51.5% of his shots, including 40% of his threes.


As a team, the Nuggets are shooting 49.6% from the field, 41.4% from three-point range.

Still, Ham said the Lakers remain positive despite all of that because they have “like-minded people.”

“We wouldn’t have gotten this far if we weren’t on the same page and thought the same thoughts, in terms of our approach and how we respond and ways we can bounce back,” Ham said. “Like, we got a room full of strong, strong men — players, staff members, the whole entire organization. We didn’t come this far to start disbelieving now.”

The Lakers have to believe that stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis will carry them and that more of their role players can improve their play.

Davis is powering the Lakers with his 28.7 points, 14 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 51.8% shooting in 41.6 minutes per game.

James iscontributing 23.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists while shooting 48.1% — but making just 15.8% on threes — in 41 minutes.

There would be no miracle for LeBron James and the Lakers in a Game 3 loss to Denver, which puts them in a 3-0 hole with little hope for a series win.

May 21, 2023

James tweaked his right foot in Game 3 and was listed as “probable” in the Lakers’ injury report because of soreness, but Ham said “he’s going to be there ready to rumble.”


Reaves, who is averaging 22.7 points, four rebounds and six assists while shooting 55% from the field overall and 56.5% on threes, and Rui Hachimura, who is averaging 17 points while shooting 63.6% from the field, are playing at a high level.

But starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is supposed to provide outside shooting, has been abysmal in the series. He is shooting 29.6% from the field and 14.3% from three-point range while the Nuggets prey on his defense because he hasn’t guarded well at all.

“We definitely need him to make more threes,” Ham said. “We need to make more threes. So, him being able to do both, just being solid within our defensive structure and him being aggressive, again, make your next shot our best shot. That has to be his mentality.”

The goal of not getting swept “is a very real thing” for the Lakers, Ham said.

So, Ham said, he wants his team to “show up and show out.”

“Like we just mentioned, we just had a great film session, talked about some things we’re doing, going to do for this upcoming game,” Ham said. “Life is all about challenges, man, be it good, bad or indifferent. If you’re not being challenged in life, like, you are just existing. You’re not living. Like, we’re living, we’re still alive.

“So, we have an opportunity to go take care of business on our home floor come tomorrow and that’s all we’re focused on.”