Lakers’ season swept away by the Nuggets

The Lakers' season comes to an end with a sweep in the Western Conference Finals.

LOS ANGELES — The 2022-23 Los Angeles Lakers’ season is over.

The Lakers came out hot in the first half. Then they cooled off and it became a struggle against the Denver Nuggets. In the end, the Lakers fell short, 113-111. Los Angeles got swept by the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

L.A. really played like their backs were against the wall. First, they inserted Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schröder into the starting line-up. And then LeBron James, who is 38 years old, was ridiculous in the first quarter. He scored 21 points as he helped boost the Lakers to a 34-28 lead entering the second quarter.

To help counter the big man from Denver, Darvin Ham inserted Tristan Thompson into the line-up. Thompson played physical and even gave the Lakers some bonus points. LeBron kept going and scored 10 more points in the second period (31 total in halftime!). The Lakers led, 73-58, at halftime. But I also knew that this could be nothing for the Nuggets; they’re too good of a team.

Coming out of the break, the Lakers started missing shots while Nikola Jokic was getting it going. It was noticeable that LeBron seemed to be letting the others get theirs but it didn’t seem to work very well. Ex-Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored on a three-point play and the Nuggets were suddenly in front.

Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon made huge threes and LeBron decided to step on the gas pedal again. He scored the last 6 Laker points in the third but they were down, 94-89, entering the final stanza.

With the Nuggets up, 107-104, Jokic had to put up a shot as the shot clock was running down. And wouldn’t you know it? Of course, it went in. Austin Reaves did counter with a three right after, though.

Jokic made an awkward lay-up to give the lead back to Denver, 113-111. LeBron missed a fadeaway and the shot clock buzzer went off but play kept going, to the confusion of the players. Jamal Murray’s little hook didn’t go in and the Lakers called timeout with four seconds left.

And this was the final possession of the Lakers season:

And that was it. The Denver Nuggets have advanced to the NBA Finals, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers disappointed in their home floor.

Jokic went for his 8th triple-double (30-14-13). Jamal Murray continued to be an offensive force; he ended with 25 points. Aaron Gordon came up huge; he made three threes on the way to 22 points.

LeBron left it all on the floor with a 40-10-9 performance. Anthony Davis had 21 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. Austin Reaves continued his consistent performance with 17 points.

It was also notable that the Lakers only made one three in the second half.

Felt like Denver head coach Michael Malone had an answer for every Lakers’ counter. But it also helps to have a two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic. He could do it all. He averaged a triple-double in the series and won the Magic Johnson trophy (Western Conference Finals MVP). Jokic deserved it all.

As for the Lakers? Well, I can’t say most of us expected them to get this far. Even in a sweep, it was a remarkable season. I’ve gone over ad nauseum on how they started off 2-10. They had injuries to both their superstars. A trade deadline netted them depth all of a sudden as they were able to get out of Russell Westbrook’s contract. They were the 13th seed for the longest time before they caught fire at the end of the season to become the 7th seed.

They were down big before defeating Minnesota in the play-in game. They took advantage of an injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies team and defeated them. They eliminated the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

And then they ran out of gas.

Credit to Denver. They have been the #1 seed for most of the season and have clearly been the best team in the Western Conference. However, for a team that’s been pretty much together for only three months and was one of the final four teams in the postseason? That is impressive in itself. Sure, we would’ve liked LeBron James to be a bit more healthy. Of course, we would’ve wanted Anthony Davis to be more consistent offensively. Yes, we would’ve wanted Darvin Ham to make quicker decisions on his line-ups. And yes, it would’ve been great if D’Angelo Russell didn’t turn into a pumpkin. But a lot of the shortcomings by the Lakers can be attributed to their opponents. Denver was the better team and they proved that.

I know fans are all about championship and bust here in Lakerland. And a lot of them would think this is a failure of a season. Considering I didn’t even think they were going to be more than a play-in team, I’d like to think they exceeded expectations. Especially, once again, that they started out 2-10. It also gives hope that maybe the Lakers can give it one more try next season. Of course, the Lakers have to make sure they re-sign some important players first. And then we can think about the 2023-24 season.

But for now, it’s done. The Lakers just fell short of an NBA Finals berth.

On a personal note, thank you to all who have read my Laker previews and recaps throughout the season on The Sporting Tribune. Stay tuned here as I now transition over to cover the women’s side of pro basketball here in Los Angeles! The Los Angeles Sparks deserve all the attention in the world and I hope you support them like you supported the Lakers. And I hope you read my stuff about the Sparks like you did with the Lakers.