Rui Hachimura Believes Bigger Lineup Will Be Good For Lakers Against Nuggets Despite Game 1 Loss
May 16, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) defends against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) in the second half during game one of the Western Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After falling behind by as many as 21 points, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to storm all the way back to get within one possession against the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

However, the Lakers’ comeback in the fourth quarter fell just short as they lost Game 1 to the Nuggets 132-126.

Darvin Ham made the questionable choice to start the night small with Dennis Schroder over Jarred Vanderbilt, and that quickly went awry as Denver pummeled Los Angeles in the painted area. Ham eventually adjusted and played Rui Hachimura more minutes in the second half, a key decision that flipped the game in favor of the purple and gold.

Hachimura said after the loss that the bigger lineups would be beneficial for Los Angeles this round, which was not the case in the second round against the Golden State Warriors.

“Yeah, I feel like for this series, it’s different than last series when we were playing against Golden State,” Hachimura said. “They are very small and quick and there are a lot of shooters. But this series, they are almost like — the point guard is 6-6 and everybody is like 6-10 and 6-8, so just got to, you know, I think for that lineup that you just said, that’s going to be good for us. And it was our first game, too, so you know, we’re just still feeling the games and everything.

“But yeah, I like the lineup for sure.”

The Japan native put up 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, giving L.A. a much-needed boost on both ends of the floor. Hachimura gave the Lakers another option in the half court as either an outside shooter or someone that could bully smaller players on the block. With Denver having to send more help his way, it opened up the floor for players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Defensively, guarding Nikola Jokic is an impossible task but Hachimura did well in the minutes he was on him. Hachimura explained that he and the coaching staff talked about how he could try to limit Jokic offensively.

“Yeah, I was just trying to get in his knee. It was — it was a part of our game plan and then we talk about it before the game. You know, I’m going to — they told me — the coaches told me that I’m going to guard Jokic, too.

“I think it was a good plan, and I think the second half, I think we did a pretty good job on him. So yeah, I think yeah, we’ve got to watch the film again tomorrow and we’re going to come back next game.”

For the first time this playoffs, the Lakers are the undersized team in the matchup so Ham must be willing to go bigger the rest of the way. If Los Angeles can carry the momentum they built in the second half of Game 1 into the rest of the series, they should be in decent shape.

Austin Reaves on Rui Hachimura playing next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Austin Reaves acknowledged after the loss that the bigger lineup that featured Hachimura is a look that he liked.

“Early in the first half, we were being out-rebounded…just gives us a little more size to play a couple different ways and to keep AD where he can go block shots as well as rebound. I like what we see from that group.”

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