Lakers On Brink Of Elimination Need Miraculous Comeback to Save Season
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are down 0–3 and facing the harsh reality that none of the 149 NBA teams who found themselves down 0–3 was ever able to mount a comeback and win a 7-game playoff series.
Make no mistake. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers are not going wave a white flag or throw in the towel. As long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis can lace them up, they’re going to keep on trying to win. James has always had a problematic relationship with the ‘impossible’ and actually proved it was possible to come back from 1–3 in the NBA Finals. What makes you think LeBron can’t make coming back from 0–3 possible?
The most frustrating and infuriating part of being down 0–3 to the Nuggets is that the Lakers had opportunities to win all three games but essentially were clearly outplayed in the last five minutes of each of the three games. The reality from the first three games of the Western Conference Finals is the Nuggets are now better than the Lakers and Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are now better superstars than LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Frankly, I’m not ready to accept those conclusions from a 3-game sample. Nor am I as a fan, ready to concede LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers can’t win four straight games from the Denver Nuggets. It certainly won’t be easy, especially with two of the four games in Denver, but the Lakers have no choice but to take the series one game at a time. Right now, the goal is to win Game 4 Monday night and extend the series.
Assuming the Lakers are going to try and win Game 4 Monday night, there are questions to answer, including how hard should Lakers be trying, who should start, and how hard and long to play injury-prone James and Davis.
How Hard Should Lakers Try?
There’s no way this Lakers team doesn’t come out with an all-out desperate aggressive attempt to win Game 4 and force the series to Game 5. This team has never quit and they’re going to die trying before getting swept in four.
Lebron James is 14–11 in elimination games and while no NBA team has ever come back from being down 0–3, he’s the one who’s proven before that ‘once impossible’ tasks can sometimes be changed to ‘now possible’ tasks. Being down 0–3 to the Nuggets is going to be a great character test for this Lakers team. Do they fold like wet laundry or come out angry and defiant and ready to prove they’re not overrated and overhyped as Nuggets claim?
As LeBron showed against the Dubs, nothing is impossible. Win Monday night and the series becomes 1–3. Denver can still pull off a Gentleman’s Sweep. Win in Denver on Wednesday night and then everything changes. Suddenly, the series is 2–3 and the Lakers are just 1 home win away from forcing a Game 7. Win Game 7 in Denver and the Lakers are then just four wins against the Miami Heat from winning their 18th NBA Championship.
The Lakers have to be asking themselves as players and team if they believe they’re still the same team they were before the conference finals began, the team that was totally confident they could beat anybody and win it all? Or did the brash Denver Nuggets steal their competitive soul along with their championship hopes by winning those three games? Or even worse, irreparably damage their self-confidence to be champions in the future?
How the Lakers play tonight will give you their answer. I, for one, fully expect nothing but the kind of win we expected but did not get in Game 3. Lakers have a lot to fight for and prove tonight by preventing a sweep.
Should Ham Change Starters?
Winning Game 4 is an opportunity for Darvin Ham to change the narrative of the 2023 West Finals from his being outcoached by the Nuggets’ Michael Malone to how the Lakers smartly fought back and turned 0–3 into a series.
The first move that Ham needs to make is to bench D’Angelo Russell, who has potentially played himself off of the Lakers and out of a new free agent deal close to the $30 million he’s making in the last year of his contract. While Game 4 could be an opportunity for D’Angelo Russell to start to redeem himself, he’s going to have to be content to do that off the bench. The Lakers need to win this game to avoid an embarrassing sweep.
His logical replacement should be Dennis Schroder, who has the Lakers’ best defensive rating in the series but he has not been providing the outside shooting, points at the rim, or playmaking in the paint the Lakers need. Darvin Ham might be smart to turn instead to Lonnie Walker IV or even untested Max Christie, both of whom have the size and length to defend Murray and the handle, shooting, and playmaking to complement Reaves.
Finally, Darvin Ham needs to start Rui Hachimura, who is the only Lakers player in this series with a positive plus/minus. Hachimura is averaging 10 points per game more than any player not named James, Davis, or Reaves. His ability to play Nikola Jokic 1-on-1 with Anthony Davis providing weak side help has been the Lakers only effective defensive scheme against the Nuggets’ two-time MVP. Hachimura needs play 40 minutes in Game 4.
Darvin Ham will likely start Schroder, Reaves, James, Hachimura, and Davis for Game 4. Russell and Vanderbilt will come off the bench but have short leashes. Lakers need to get off to fast start to lesseon the pressure.
Load Manage James and Davis?
Much as the Lakers would like to pull off a miracle comeback from being down 0–3, the last thing this franchise needs to do is risk a major injury to one of their superstars in a game that has only a remote chance to matter.
Ham and the Lakers should go all out to win this game because it is a test of their heart and character but leaving James and Davis in the game should the Nuggets get ahead by more than 10 points would be too foolish to risk. Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis have long time foot injuries that may require offseason surgery. They both have essentially been playing ‘must win’ games for over two months and they have to be exhausted.
Frankly, the Lakers and their fans desperately need to win Monday night and avoid the bad taste of getting swept. Somehow, some way, Los Angeles has to figure out how to win and keep the series going back to Denver. That’s why Game 4 is so important. The last thing the Lakers want is to spend the entire summer after being swept in a series they thought they could win. All they can do at this point is play one game at a time.
As for James and Davis, the Lakers’ load management has to incorporate the odds the team is playing against when it comes to heavily relying on James and Davis to play heavy minutes under intense playoff pressure. Until the Lakers win a couple of games, the Lakers have to be careful not to risk James and Davis getting injured in playoff games they’re likely to lose. Should the Lakers get the series to 2–3, then it’s all out for James and Davis.
The ideal situation for Game 4 would be for the Lakers to lead the Nuggets by 20 at the half and seal the game in the third quarter so James and Davis could sit the entire fourth quarter. Do that and Lakers will be alive.