The Lakers weren't as good (or as bad) as you thought in Game 1


DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 20: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts up a shot against Christian Braun #0 of the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter during game one of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Ball Arena on April 20, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

There was a feeling around the arena and in the media room Saturday night that the Lakers had fired their best punch and that, maybe, it just wasn’t good enough.

But fresh eyes on Game 1 combined with some time gave coach Darvin Ham and the Lakers the ability to properly contextualize what happened in their 114-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets in their first-round Western Conference playoff series.

“We got great looks that we just didn’t knock down. Shots that we’ve been knocking down. And then our pace is off,” Ham said in a call with reporters Sunday. “There’s no question, we just watched with the team, of us walking up and down, walking back toward the offensive end and not getting in and out of our actions quick. We’re a completely different ball club when we’re sprinting up the floor. Even after a made basket, we have to have urgency offensively.

“That has to be a part of our defense as well. How to defend this team is to put more pressure on them on offense. Try to put them on their heels too.”

The Lakers’ Game 1 offensive woes were overshadowed, in part, by the 59 combined points of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the two also had nine turnovers (seven by James).

And the Lakers shot eight for29 on three-pointers, scoring only 103 points. During the regular season, the Lakers were held to 103 or fewer only eight times. D’Angelo Russell, in particular, was one-for-nine shooting from three-point range after making 41.5% of his shots from deep in the regular season.

Read more: Lakers takeaways: Why Anthony Davis and LeBron James weren’t good enough in Game 1

Denver coach Michael Malone even pointed out Sunday the quality of shots the Lakers got — and missed — in Game 1.

Ham said he thought the Lakers’ half-court defense in Game 1 looked better on film — the bigger issues coming in transition.

“They made some tough shots, but we didn’t do a bad job defensively. We forced them into some tough shots,” Ham said. “They made a couple tough shots. But our biggest problem was transition defense, getting back, getting matched up so we weren’t crossmatched.

“We didn’t do that as well as we should and obviously giving up second-chance points and some untimely turnovers on our part.”

Those problems in the playoffs, especially against a team that’s as good as Denver, are critical.

“So it’s the intangible game and that’s the game you really have to fight with good teams like Denver, championship teams like Denver. The little things matter,” Ham said. “The details and the discipline. It’s more so that than anything else, than the big stuff or the post coverage or pick-and-roll coverage. It’s the intangible things.

“So that’s what’s what really came to light as we went back to the hotel after the game and rewatched the film.”

Read more: Plaschke: Lakers just aren’t good enough to beat the Denver Nuggets

Regarding Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a two-time league MVP, Ham said the Lakers have a practically impossible task.

“It starts with trying to limit his touches, which is damn near impossible,” he said. “But that’s what it takes if you’re trying to win.”

Wood nearing a return?

A report from the Athletic’s Shams Charania said reserve big man Christian Wood is “planning to return to action” for Game 3 on Thursday in Los Angeles. Wood, who has been out since the All-Star break because of a knee injury that required surgery, isn’t with the team in Denver.

“All I say is he’s still going through his recovery process from injuries, rehab process,” Ham said. “…Obviously, he has size, he has length, he has rebounding capabilities, he can stretch the floor. But first and foremost, he has a couple more boxes to check before we even consider that.”

The team is still without forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who is recovering from a foot injury suffered on Feb. 1.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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