Lakers facing a new playoff challenge as series shifts home

DENVER, CO - MAY 18: Denver Nuggets forward Jeff Green, right, fouls Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura.
Denver Nuggets forward Jeff Green, right, fouls Lakers forward Rui Hachimura on a fast break during the second half of Game 2 in the NBA Western Conference final at Ball Arena on Thursday in Denver. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

For the first time in these Western Conference playoffs, the Lakers have lost the first two games on the road. For the first time in these best-of-seven series, the Lakers have run up against an opponent that has been equal to the force they have been delivering.

They faced a Denver Nuggets team that still has not lost a game at home, improving to 8-0, the Lakers feeling the same pain the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns felt when they came here earlier this postseason.

The Lakers have not lost a postseason game at Arena, building a 6-0 record.

But LeBron James said after the Lakers dropped Game 2 to the Nuggets 108-103 on Thursday night to open a 2-0 lead they can’t just rely on that for comfort.

“We’re still going to play with the same desperation as we did tonight when we came out with an L,” James said after he scored 22 points, handed out 10 assists and grabbed nine rebounds. “But it doesn’t give us any more comfort. You can’t go into any postseason game with comfort because you haven’t lost at home and you’re going back home. I think it’s even more you have to be on edge. You go home, you get in your own bed, you’re around your family, everybody is being cool and jolly and everything. Naw, you got to be even more on edge when you go home. So, we got to understand that going back being down 0-2. There’s no reason for us to get comfortable.”

Moreso, the rest of the series has games every other day, which might not bode well for the Lakers.

Game 3 is Saturday at home and Game 4 will be Monday in Los Angeles.

“What you take out of it is the fact that it’s not the NCAA tournament,” James said. “It’s the first team to four wins and we have an opportunity to go home and play great basketball and hold serve. So, until a team beats you four times, then you always have an opportunity to come out. That’s the confidence that we should have and I know it’s a tough hill to climb up, but we have an opportunity to play good basketball and play our best basketball of the series in Game 3. Like I said, if we can get better from Game 2 like we did tonight, Game 3 we’ll put ourselves in position to win.”

The Lakers will have a better chance if they find a way to slow down Jamal Murray.

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray shoots a three-point basket while Lakers forward LeBron James defends.

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray shoots a three-pointer while Lakers forward LeBron James defends during the second half of Game 2 in the NBA Western Conference final at Ball Arena on Thursday in Denver. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He torched them with his three-point shooting, going six for 14 from the deep, a big reason he scored a game-high 37 points.

There was a stretch in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets drilled five straight three-pointers — three by Murray — that allowed them to turn a two-point deficit into a 12-point lead the Lakers were never able to overcome.

“They are like us — they are undefeated at home,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge and a hard one at that. And we said it before we even played one game, we got to buckle in and buckle up, buckle down and buckle up. … We plan on this being a long series. So, again, hats off to them. They held serve on their home floor and the more higher the level you get to, you are going to face much, much tougher teams. No disrespect to Memphis and Golden State, but this [Devner] team has been at the top of the food chain for a reason. Not just this year, but the last few years. So, we definitely got our work cut out for us. But we’re going to get better from this, like we always do. We’ll bounce back on our home floor.”

After the Lakers lost Game 1, Ham was upbeat.

They had come back from a 21-point deficit and got to within three before losing.

So, Ham was asked, how is he feeling now.

“Yeah, it’s the same thing,” Ham said. “I’ve been in a lot of these wars, man, both as a player and a coach and I’m not going to get discouraged, you know what I mean? We just got to, again, they took care of their business on their home floor. We have to go do the same.”

Lakers role players Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura played well. Reaves had 22 points on eight-for-16 shooting and five for nine on three-pointers. Hachimura had 21 points off the bench.

“Again, we just have to continue to chip away at the rock,” Ham said. “We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball in certain moments and continue to get better.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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