The Los Angeles Lakers hold a 3-1 series lead for the third time in the 2020 playoffs and hope to improve to 3-0 in closeout games as they face the pesky Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets have been in this exact situation before in both rounds of these playoffs, facing a 3-1 deficit against the Utah Jazz and the L.A. Clippers. In both rounds, they used Games 5-7 to play their best basketball, simply outworking opponents on their way to wins.
The Lakers’ job is to ensure that it doesn’t happen to them too by avoiding complacency. L.A. has had flashes of laziness throughout the postseason, but it has yet to come in a closeout game, as their average margin of victory in said opportunities is 16 points.
What’s on the line for them is the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 2010, and they’ll need some of the same energy they had in Game 4 to make it happen.
Although L.A. did not shoot the ball particularly well — 47.5% from the field and 33.3% from three — defense and rebounding saved them. They out-rebounded the Nuggets 41-33 overall and 12-6 on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, they had nine steals on the game compared to the Nuggets’ four.
The Lakers also seemingly fixed their turnover issues that plagued them in Games 2 and 3, coughing it up just nine times. These are all trend that will need to continue in Game 5 for them to close the series out without issue.
Another problem they now must address is the poor play from their role players. Outside of a good third quarter from Rajon Rondo and a quality play from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the fourth, those two along with Alex Caruso, Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma combined to score 40 points on 15-for-39 from the field. Individual moments from Rondo and Caldwell-Pope saved it from being far worse.
Switching Dwight Howard into the starting lineup is also a move that may be permanent, as he simply outplayed Nikola Jokic in the first quarter while avoiding foul trouble. For the game, Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds, six of them offensive.
A point of concern for L.A. could be the injured ankle of Anthony Davis. He rolled his ankle on an jumper in the fourth quarter, but played through it to help the Lakers secure the win. He — along with several other Lakers — is listed on the injury report but has said he’ll be fine.
Lakers (3-1) vs. Nuggets (1-3)
6:00 p.m. PT, Sep. 26, 2020
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Florida
Radio: 710 AM ESPN L.A.
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Danny Green
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, Markieff Morris
Projected Nuggets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Jerami Grant
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Michael Porter Jr., Mason Plumlee
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