Too much room for comfort? Lakers fall into Nuggets’ sweet spot with Game 4 win

Too much room for comfort? Lakers fall into Nuggets’ sweet spot with Game 4 win

LeBron James asked his coach to take on the assignment. He wanted to be responsible for Jamal Murray, the Denver Nuggets’ dynamo who has hurt the Lakers down the stretch in the Western Conference finals. He didn’t want to see a repeat of Game 3.

Every time Murray tried to get inside, he found James right there with him. In the second quarter, Murray had twisted his way around James for a circus-like layup. But in the fourth, James had control of the matchup.

“Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until Bron took that assignment,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 114-108 behind 60 points from Anthony Davis (34) and James (26) in a game in which they dominated the rebounding margin and scored 25 second-chance points. Denver didn’t score a field goal for the final 3:27 of the game.

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“For the most part we played our style,” Davis said. “And when we play our style we’re tough to beat.”

Murray finished with 32 points.

“I knew it was winning time and Jamal had it going,” James said. “The kid is special. An array of shots. … For me it’s just trusting my defensive keys, trusting my study of film. Trusting the personnel and living with the results.”

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With the win, the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets and are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010. Denver meanwhile, faces its third consecutive 3-1 deficit of the playoffs.

Dwight Howard got his first start on a healthy Lakers roster, replacing JaVale McGee. He rewarded Vogel for his trust. Howard scored eight points with eight rebounds in the first quarter alone. His rebounding helped set a tone for the Lakers, who had been outrebounded 44-25 in their Game 3 loss.

On Thursday, the Lakers won the rebounding battle, a change Vogel attributed simply to “commitment.”

Davis’ offensive contributions also pushed the Lakers in the first quarter. He didn’t miss a shot until 3:58 remained in the second quarter. By that point he’d scored 14 points, including the Lakers’ first 10. However, he missed his next four shots — three in the second quarter and one in the third.

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With about two minutes left in the half, Murray elevated for what looked like a right-handed dunk attempt with James in front of him ready to block his shot. Instead, while in mid-air, Murray brought the ball down and around James’ midsection, then spun it up and into the basket to make the score 57-51.

The Lakers missed 10 of their last 12 shots in the second quarter, which allowed the Nuggets to close what had been a double-digit gap to five. Denver shot 59% in the first half.

Eight third-quarter points from Rajon Rondo and seven from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope helped the Lakers hang onto their lead after three, but the Nuggets cut their deficit to three with 12 minutes to play.

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The lead was only 87-86 with 11:14 to play. Twice late in the fourth, Murray tried to attack. James went step for step with him both times, and was there to deny him. Murray didn’t get free throws on either trip, though he thought he deserved them. After the first defensive stop, James helped lead a fastbreak that resulted in his layup at the other end on a pass from Rondo.

Highlights from the Lakers’ win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday.

A scoring drought influenced by tough Lakers defense kept the Nuggets from going on a run to take the game.

The Nuggets have been here twice before. They trailed 3-1 to the Utah Jazz before winning that series. Then they trailed 3-1 to the Clippers before winning that series. They thrive in elimination games and will face the Lakers in another one Saturday.

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But the Lakers have also been here twice before — with a 3-1 lead against an overmatched opponent. They won Game 5 both times — against Portland and Houston.

“Both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team [Denver] is not going to go away,” Davis said. “We gotta put them away.”

Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.

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