The Lakers will move on from Game 1 and prepare for Game 2 against these Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets have given the Lakers a nearly-unsolvable riddle in Nikola Jokic. He just did everything for Denver in Game 1, ending with a 34-21-14 triple-double that would impress even Oscar Robertson.
But while the final line was incredible, let’s make a note that Jokic only scored three points in the fourth quarter. And they were all from free throws. The Lakers put Rui Hachimura as their primary defender and had Anthony Davis be the help defender and roamer. The Lakers nearly stole the victory but, ultimately, they fell short. And the Nuggets lead, 1-0.
Denver isn’t Memphis or Golden State. The Nuggets are younger, taller, and deeper than both of those teams. And their starting frontline is humongous. Jokic is 6’11”, Michael Porter Jr. is 6’10”, and Aaron Gordon is 6’8″. Which is why it was puzzling to see the Lakers keep their starting line-up from Game 6 against G. State.
Darvin Ham insists it’s not a “size factor” but a “mobility factor.” And he mentioned that “multiple bodies were standing around.” While he’s not wrong about the lack of energy in the first half, I just don’t think it’s practical to have 6’5″ Austin Reaves take on MPJ. Porter is 5 inches taller than Reaves and can shoot over and outrebound him easily. At least, when the Lakers go bigger, a larger LeBron James, Rui Hachimura, or Davis (let’s even throw in Jarred Vanderbilt) can take on the mammoth Nuggets frontcourt.
And it’s why the Lakers were able to get back into the game. But make no mistake about it, the Nuggets are going to find a counter to this. Nuggets may go to a Jamal Murray/Jokic two-man game and see if they can trap Davis into the pick-and-roll (which worked wonders for Golden State).
The lesser of two evils for the Lakers, in my view, is to have Jokic have a huge scoring game but limit the rest of the roster. In Game 4 against Phoenix, Jokic erupted for 53 points. But despite having big buckets, he tired out and, again, it limited his teammates. Maybe the Lakers will try that.
Either way, the Lakers cannot get off to a bad start like that. L.A. has to score points to win against Denver and to not keep up early is just asking for trouble. They absolutely cannot play uphill for most of the game, especially against an offensive force like the Nuggets. The Lakers are certainly capable of scoring a lot of points but their bread and butter is on the defensive end. They have to muck the game up and make the Nuggets as uncomfortable on the offensive end as possible. Let’s also see if D’Angelo Russell can have a huge scoring game because when he does, the Lakers are nearly invincible (when Russell scores 17 or more in this year’s playoffs, the Lakers are 7-0).
Darvin Ham said to trust him. LeBron James said that they’ll be better for Game 2. Let’s see if they are good enough to take the series back to Los Angeles with a 1-1 deadlock.