Anthony Davis and LeBron James power Lakers’ Game 1 win over Nuggets

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On their third try this postseason, the Los Angeles Lakers finally won Game 1 of a playoff series.

After losing their openers against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets, before winning those series 4-1, they defeated the Denver Nuggets 126-114 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at Orlando, Fla.

Their effort was fueled by 15 points and 12 assists from LeBron James, and a monster 37-point, 10 rebound game from Anthony Davis.

“No lead is safe with this team. End of game or end of series they’ve proven they’re a second-half team,” Davis said. “They come out and basically destroy teams in the second half and proved that if they’re down in a series they’re going to fight.

“We haven’t done anything special from our group. We know the type of team they are. It just puts the emphasis on our focus. … When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel promised to use his centers more against the Nuggets than he had against the Houston Rockets. He started 7-footer JaVale McGee, after moving away from McGee and backup center Dwight Howard in the previous series.

McGee opened the first quarter by swatting away Nuggets center Nikola Jokic’s first shot. Jokic, though, recovered from the early setback, even while facing Lakers’ double-teams. He finished the first quarter with 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. The Lakers trailed 38-36 after the first quarter with a three-pointer at the buzzer by Nuggets guard Jamal Murray.

James tweaked his ankle early in the second quarter after stepping on Nuggets forward Jerami Grant’s foot but didn’t appear injured for long. Moments later, he scored with a powerful two-handed dunk to give the Lakers a 42-38 edge, capping a 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

They tightened their grip further from there. The run extended to 17-1. Not until 6:48 remained in the second quarter did the Nuggets score their first field goal of the period.

Their turnaround had a lot to do with Howard, who played only 15 minutes in the series against the Rockets. He played eight minutes in the second quarter and the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 16 during his time on the court. His aggressiveness earned him eight free throws in the second quarter alone — overall the Lakers shot 24 second-quarter free throws and missed 10 of them.

The Nuggets remained within striking distance despite their struggles in the second quarter. Their two stars, Jokic and Murray, sat on the bench with three fouls, but the Lakers couldn’t break open the game.

In the locker room at halftime, with the Lakers up 70-59, Vogel reminded his team not to underestimate Denver.

“What is this team known for?” Vogel said.

“Second-half comebacks,” his players replied.

It wouldn’t be that kind of night for Denver. With a Davis dunk off a Nuggets turnover in the third quarter, the Lakers took a 22-point lead over the Nuggets. And with three Denver players swarming him, Davis pushed the lead to 23 with 38 seconds left in the quarter by knocking down a hook shot.

By the end of the third quarter, Davis had 16 points in the period, Jokic had five fouls and the Lakers had little to worry about.

As the fourth quarter progressed, the Nuggets never got much closer. Rajon Rondo threw up a trick shot around the back of the backboard, finishing with nine assists and seven points with two steals. Davis stayed in the game in hopes of reaching 40 points but eventually sat to watch the end from the bench.

Their win was just a start — the Nuggets don’t just play well in the second half, they’ve dominated the second half in the playoffs.

“This is an historic type of resilient team,” Vogel said. “We gotta understand that both with a series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games. I think all three of the games they came back in the previous series they had (double-digit) deficits.”

In a pregame locker room speech broadcast over television, Denver coach Mike Malone had reminded his team that they were an uncommon group.

“Keep on making history, fellas,” Malone said to the players who had orchestrated two comebacks from 3-1 deficits this postseason. “Keep on making history.”

The Lakers, though, were also interested in making history, and Denver’s past was not going to stop them. At least not at first.


(Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.)


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