Darvin Ham: Lakers Need To Make Things Tougher On Nuggets In Crunch Time
Darvin Ham, Lakers
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Darvin Ham and the Los Angeles Lakers felt a sense of deja vu on Saturday night against the Denver Nuggets. In their eighth straight loss against the Nuggets dating back to Jan. 9, 2023, they once again found themselves in control for most of the game only for Denver to go on a late run and end up winning by double digits.

Seven of the eight losses against the Nuggets have been by a margin between five and 13 points, with many of the losses coming in crunch time.

On Saturday, it was a 16-4 run in the final 3:49 that gave the Nuggets the victory. The Lakers led for most of the game and were back and forth for nearly the entire fourth quarter. But the Lakers have not yet shown the ability to close out games when it matters most against the Nuggets, as Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray tend to take over and score at will.

Ham talked about what went wrong for the Lakers down the stretch and all the things that the Nuggets do right that make them so difficult to beat in those final moments.

“They just make you pay,” Ham said. “They hit a bunch of tough, contested 2s. Obviously Jamal Murray got going, got to cooking, and then Jokic was able to throw in some real tough ones in the paint and some tough middys. We shifted and tried to make them see bodies, Gordon hits a 3, Justin Holiday hits a 3. They make plays. That’s what championship teams do. We just didn’t quite make enough of them. But hats off to them, they’re a hell of a ballclub. But we’ll get better from this, for sure.”

The Lakers once again found themselves significantly outrebounded, with the Nuggets winning that battle 47-31. It has been an ongoing issue for L.A. this season, but it has especially shown itself against the Nuggets.

“Just got to get bodies. They’re not only big, they’re active. They’re energetic on the glass,” Ham said of Denver. “It’s not just a matter of putting a body up against them, you got to hit them and move them and other guys got to participate. We lost a couple of crucial opportunities to hold them to one possession. And again, they capitalize off of things like that. The biggest thing for us is to go back and look at it on film. We got a big week coming up and it is what it is. We got to learn from this and just move on.

“It’s the rebounding, and we had some good looks that didn’t quite go down. Just mishandled the ball a few times. But yeah, the rebounding thing. We got to clean that up. We got to be a better defensive rebounding team, for sure. We have great defensive possessions and we just got to finish the defense.

“I thought we were good tonight in transition for the most part. Good in the halfcourt. Obviously, they hit some tough shots. Jamal [Murray] and Nikola [Jokic], they are tough shot-makers. So when you do force them into a miss, Michael Porter Jr. is on fire tonight. He didn’t miss a shot, which is unbelievable. They make you pay. When you are fortunate enough to get a stop or force a miss, you’ve got to collect a rebound.”

Ham then explained why a win was so important for the Lakers given the situation the team is in.

“It’s not because of who we’re playing against. Obviously, you want to beat the defending champions. But we want to win any game,” Ham said. “We need as many wins as possible at this point and time in the season. But just things that we need to get better at that rear their ugly head and tonight some unfortunately defensive rebounds that got away from us.

“I thought for the most part, we played about a good a first half as you could’ve played against this team. Second half we came out, again, we had some slippage in the third quarter, but they had guys that got it going and different guys and different segments of the game. Michael Porter shot the leather off the ball. Then [Nikola] Jokic, his timely buckets. Some of his passes he was able to make. [Aaron] Gordon playing behind the defense, he throws in a huge 3 for them. And then Jamal Murray. They’re a tough team, but there’s things we definitely got to get better at.”

At some point, the Lakers are going to need to get over the hump of beating the Nuggets in crunch time if they want to have ay shot of competing in the Western Conference. Otherwise, it could end up with the Lakers facing a similar finish to last season.

LeBron James calls reaching 40,000 bittersweet because of Lakers loss

Despite the loss, LeBron James was still proud of what he was able to do and spoke what it meant for him to accomplish the feat and get love from the gans.

“Obviously, I’m never thinking about a milestone when I’m out there battling. But when it happens, obviously we acknowledge it,” James said. “Obviously, much respect and much loyalty to the Laker fan base for showing me that love during the timeout. Being the first player to do something, it’s pretty cool in this league, cause you just know the history, you know the greats that’s come through the league. And then you see some of the greats that was on the floor tonight. It was just great to compete vs. that.

“But for me, the main thing is always the main thing, and that’s to win. I just hate that it had to happen in a defeat, especially vs. a team that plays extremely well. And we played some good basketball tonight but wasn’t able to close it out. So, bittersweet. But I enjoyed every moment tonight though out on the floor.”

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