NBA playoffs

‘No weakness’ Nuggets race past Lakers for 3-0 series edge


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‘No weakness’ Nuggets race past Lakers for 3-0 series edge

BIG CLASH. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic tries to shake off the defensive efforts of Lakers forward Anthony Davis.

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

As Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets inch closer to sweeping the Lakers, even LeBron James admits that the defending champions have ‘one of the best starting fives’ in the league

Nikola Jokic compiled 24 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists as the visiting Denver Nuggets moved one win away from the Western Conference semifinals with a 112-105 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, April 25 (Friday, April 26, Manila time).

Aaron Gordon added 29 points with 15 rebounds as the Nuggets grabbed a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Jamal Murray scored 22 points and Michael Porter Jr. added 20 points and 10 rebounds to help the Nuggets extend their winning streak over the Lakers to 11 games. 

The run includes seven consecutive playoff victories, as Denver swept Los Angeles in last year’s conference finals.

The Nuggets, who are the reigning NBA champions, can move into the next round as early as Saturday, April 27, in Game 4 at Los Angeles.

“A close-out game is always the toughest game in this business,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “There are a lot of things we can improve on. We gave up 70 points in the paint tonight, 25 in transition. But our guys believe. They have unbelievable confidence and the scary thing for me is that we can play so much better.”

Anthony Davis logged 33 points and 15 rebounds and LeBron James produced 26 points and 9 assists for the Lakers, who are on their first losing streak of at least three games since the start of the new year, when they were in the midst of a four-game skid.

“This (Nuggets) team is definitely well equipped, well prepared, well coached,” James said. “They do not have a weakness offensively. Every guy they put on the floor, they have been one of the best starting fives in our league over the last few years. They have shot makers, playmakers, guys who can rebound and assist. It’s definitely one of the better teams that I have played in my career.”

Los Angeles closed the regular season with 11 wins in the final 14 games, then beat the New Orleans Pelicans in a play-in game.

“It’s not easy beating a team 11 times in a row and it’s not easy beating LeBron James and Anthony Davis and all those guys 11 times,” Porter said.

Austin Reaves finished with 22 points while D’Angelo Russell did not score in 24 minutes for the Lakers, who held a lead at halftime in every game of the series, including a four-point advantage at the break on Thursday. 

Russell was 0-of-7 from the floor and 0-of-6 from three-point range.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, looking ahead to Game 4, said, “It’s as simple as win or go home, it’s as simple as that. You have to come with competitive pride, try to get one here and stay alive. It’s one game at a time. That’s all we have is the next game and all we should be concerned with.”

The Lakers brought some much-needed desperation early, taking a 33-23 lead through one quarter by holding the Nuggets to 39.1% shooting from the floor. Denver hit 44% from the field in the second quarter and trailed 53-49 at halftime.

The Nuggets turned a 9-0 run early in the second half into a 69-61 lead and grabbed their first double-digit lead of the game at 81-69 with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter on a three-pointer from Reggie Jackson.

The Nuggets lost Jackson to a sprained left ankle less than two minutes later, and he did not return.

Denver entered the fourth quarter with an 83-75 lead, and a step-back jumper from Porter put the Nuggets up 97-86 with 6:54 remaining. The Nuggets weren’t threatened from there.

The Lakers shot 5-of-27 (18.5%) from three-point range. The Nuggets had a 51-38 rebounding advantage.

“Giving up 112 to that team is not bad,” Reaves said. “It’s actually a pretty good defensive game. But our offense has been struggling and it’s super frustrating. Losing sucks, and that’s all anybody should care about in our locker room is us losing right now. It shouldn’t be anything else other than that.”


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