Unlike their first two series’ of the postseason, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to steal Game 1 on the road against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
Darvin Ham opted to go with a smaller starting lineup including Dennis Schroder, and the results weren’t pretty as the Nuggets pounded the Lakers inside and on the offensive glass to jump out to a 20-point lead.
Ham adjusted in the fourth quarter, putting Rui Hachimura on Nikola Jokic which allowed Anthony Davis to roam and protect the paint. That led to a furious comeback attempt for the Lakers, although they came up just short after LeBron James missed an open 3-pointer to tie it in the final minute.
The Lakers definitely found something that worked with Hachimura on Jokic though, and even though it’s not something they can go to for the entirety of the series, it appears they will try it out again in Game 2 on Thursday night.
Reports came out on Thursday morning that Ham was considering inserting Hachimura into the starting lineup, although he is ultimately going a different direction. When starting lineups were officially released pregame, it was Jarred Vanderbilt, not Hachimura, re-entering for L.A.
This gives the Lakers some more size, which will hopefully help on the defensive end and specifically on the glass.
Hachimura will certainly still get his fair share of minutes off the bench and likely another opportunity on Jokic. He also presents some mismatches for the Nuggets on the other end of the floor as well with 18 points in Game 1, which should also open up better looks for James and Anthony Davis.
A lot of Game 2 will come down to if the Lakers can either slow down the Nuggets’ role players, or if they can perhaps match them on the offensive end.
Jokic was masterful in Game 1, getting good looks for himself and his teammates to finish with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists. The two-time MVP is obviously going to get his, but the Lakers cannot afford to have the Nuggets shoot almost 50% from 3-point range overall with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each hitting three.
While Austin Reaves did his part to keep up with five triples of his own, D’Angelo Russell and James combined to go 0-for-7 from deep. Russell, in particular, needs to have a bounce-back offensive performance for the Lakers as the Nuggets have already made it clear that they will attack him on the other end of the floor.
If Russell continues to struggle offensively then it could lead to him being on the bench down the stretch again, which doesn’t bode well for the Lakers as they look to return home with the series tied at a game apiece.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-1) vs. Denver Nuggets (1-0)
5:30 p.m. PT, May 18, 2023
Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: Jarred Vanderbilt
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, Wenyen Gabriel
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Michael Porter Jr.
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun
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