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Lakers seek boost after falling behind Denver in conference final

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Lakers’ season-ending transformation is one of the best stories of this NBA season, LeBron James and his teammates finally seem to be running out of steam in the Western Conference Finals.

They also encountered an adversary who could make sure this story didn’t have a completely happy ending.

After looking tired and error-prone in Denver in their first straight loss in more than two months, the Lakers face a must-win Game 3 on Saturday.

Los Angeles has been on an extended streak since the trade deadline, going 27-12 while moving into the playoff bracket, winning a playoff and knocking out two top-ranked opponents in six games. But that turnover was eventually slowed by Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the respect-hungry Nuggets, whose superior late game play was the reason they are up 2-0.

“It’s not the NCAA tournament,” James said. “It’s the first team with four wins. We have an opportunity to come home and play some great basketball and hold serve. As long as a team doesn’t beat you four times, you still have a chance to get away with it. So that’s the trust we should have. I know it’s going to be a tough hill to climb, but we still have an opportunity to play the best basketball in the series in Game 3.”

The Lakers insist they weren’t as tired as they’d like during the two games in Denver, when they settled for too many jumpers, ran the field less effectively and lost a fraction of their defensive intensity. Both James and Anthony Davis say the fatigue of this relentless two-month sprint towards title contention is ultimately not too much for a team that changed half of its roster just three months ago.

“If you’re not tired in the playoffs…” James said after LA’s 108-103 loss in Game 2. “I mean, everybody’s tired.”

But James’ weariness seems to be evident in his jump shot – and his confidence in that shot instead of the more physically demanding task of driving to the hoop. The all-time leading scorer in NBA went 0 for 6 on 3-pointers in Game 2, making him 0 for 10 in the series. He also missed 19 straight fourth-quarter 3-pointers in the Lakers’ last 11 playoff games.

Along with fatigue from the heavy workload on his 38-year-old body, James also sprained his left ankle in the third quarter of Game 2, despite saying he would be fine for Game 3. .

Davis is prone to offensive inconsistency, and the stress of leading the Lakers’ defensive effort against powerhouse Denver may have affected him — though he insists that’s not the case. What’s clear is that Davis’ 18-point performance on 4-of-15 shooting in Game 2 isn’t good enough from the Lakers franchise big man, especially after his 40-point effort. in Game 1, when the Lakers defense was much worse.

The Lakers are hoping for a big boost from their hungry home fans when they return to their downtown arena, where they are 7-0 at home since the end of the regular season.

“The higher the levels, the more you’re going to face much tougher teams,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “No disrespect to Memphis or Golden State, but (Denver) has been at the top of the food chain for a reason. Not just this year, but the last few years. So we definitely have our work cut out, but we will improve, as we always do, and we will bounce back on our soil.

The Lakers had lost consecutive games only once — in mid-March — since the trade deadline. Their end-of-season turnaround is still stunning after the additions of D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley as well as the departures of Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn, opening up playing time for vital support players Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder.

But all that quick work might not be enough to overcome the stable unit of the Nuggets, who have handled the Lakers much better than their own inferiority complex.

Coach Michael Malone oddly punctuated their tough Game 2 win with sarcastic jabs at the basketball world’s supposed ignorance of two-time NBA MVP Jokic’s talents, as well as criticism of a ‘national narrative’ who he felt was overly impressed with the Lakers’ Game 1 rally.

The West’s winningest team is making its fifth straight playoff appearance after its sixth straight season, but Malone seems to be paying close attention to TV talking heads while hammering the no-one-believe-in-us narrative that permeates sport, even for professionals. powerhouses like the Nuggets and Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs.

Maybe it’s because these Nuggets have never been here before: they’re as close to the NBA Finals as this franchise has ever been, up 2-0 on a 17-time franchise. NBA champion with a global brand and the sport’s most accomplished active player. .

Eliminating LeBron and the Lakers would be a standout accomplishment for this Denver group, and he has a chance of anything but locking in the accomplishment with a Game 3 victory.

“It’s definitely going to be hostile out there,” Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. said. “They still feel like they’re in that series, obviously. It’s the first to four. It’s not the first two. They’re not just going to turn around, and now they’re back in Los Angeles.


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