Dan Woike: Lakers frustrated they can't beat Nuggets, and the problem is getting worse

Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

In three games with the Lakers, Denver has scored 19 more points in the fourth quarter while shooting 61.2% from the field and 52.2% from three.

In the team's previous meeting, the score was tied 104-104 with 2:18 left before the Nuggets scored 10 points on four possessions in a little more than a minute to grab the game.

The Nuggets somehow have missed just a single shot when the score's been within five points in the final four minutes of the last two games with the Lakers.

In seven minutes of crunch time in the last two games, defined as the score being within five points, Denver's got a net rating of 109.5 points per 100 possessions.

"They have our number," LeBron James said.

And those numbers? They were actually better a year ago.

Last year in fourth quarters of the Western Conference finals, Denver scored 120.4 points per 100 possessions and outscored the Lakers by just six total points in the final quarters.

The defensive issues stem from the inability to corral Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll plays, a problem that doesn't solely belong to the Lakers.


Murray scored 10 points in the fourth quarters in each of Denver's last two wins against the Lakers. Last year in the Western Conference finals, he averaged 10.8 points in the fourth.

Additionally, the Nuggets supporting cast has feasted with the defense focused on Murray and Jokic. This season in three fourth quarters, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon have scored 32 points on 75% field-goal shooting.

Jokic, in those fourth quarters, has missed just twice in nine attempts.

The Nuggets' continued late-game dominance left the Lakers flustered, with James going as far as to say there's just no answer for Jokic defensively.

Perhaps a return from Jarred Vanderbilt helps, though he was mostly a nonfactor against the Nuggets a year ago. Gabe Vincent's two-way potential was attractive, in part, because of a possible showdown with the Nuggets but he's still not back from knee surgery.

All that involves a lot of projection.

In reality, the gap between the Lakers and Denver, the team that's now beaten them eight straight times, is only getting wider.

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