Lakers Humbling Sweep: Analyzing Defeat and LeBron’s Future.

Lakers Humbling Sweep Analyzing Defeat and LeBron's Future.

LOS ANGELES — If you find yourself on the wrong end of a sweep twice in two years, what do you call that — getting vacuumed?

That’s the humbling predicament the Lakers are facing against the Nuggets, a scenario that seems almost unreal. It’s not every day you see a team being swept repeatedly, especially when it boasts players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Yet, just like last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets have the Lakers in a tight grip once again. Despite the Lakers taking double-digit leads in the first half of each game — 12 points in Game 1, 20 in Game 2, and 10 after the first quarter of Game 3 — it’s been nothing but disappointment.

Denver’s 112-105 victory on Thursday marked their 11th consecutive win against the Lakers (combining regular season and postseason), giving the defending champs a commanding 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

Here are five key takeaways from Game 3:

1. Lakers showed signs of mental fatigue

The Lakers began Game 3 with a burst of energy — Anthony Davis dunk, Rui Hachimura dunk, LeBron James dunk. They looked spirited, aggressive, and perhaps a bit angry.

But as the game progressed, their demeanor changed drastically. Their body language sagged, LeBron committed careless turnovers, and D’Angelo Russell even received boos from the crowd after missing an open 3-pointer and showing disinterest in joining the timeout huddle.

Simply put, the Lakers crumbled. They struggled from beyond the arc (5-for-27), squandered their first-half leads, and failed to give their home crowd any reason to hope.

It’s worth pondering how much their recent struggles against the Nuggets affected their confidence. While the previous six playoff games between these teams were competitive, this one lacked that spark, especially after three quarters. Perhaps the weight of the moment finally caught up with the Lakers.

Russell went scoreless in 24 minutes, Davis managed only three points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers’ defense faltered in the paint. These are all signs of a team that’s been thoroughly outplayed.

“We lost focus on the attention to detail we had in the first half,” LeBron admitted.

2. Lakers attempted to lure Jokic into foul trouble

Their plan seemed effective initially. Davis drew two quick fouls on Jokic within the first five minutes of the game, and by early in the third quarter, Jokic had already accumulated three fouls.

However, the Lakers failed to capitalize on this advantage. Whether Jokic played cautiously to avoid further fouls or was substituted out, the Lakers couldn’t exploit the situation.

In the past, the Nuggets often struggled when Jokic wasn’t on the court, making it a smart move by Davis to attack early. But this time, Denver didn’t falter. Players like Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray, and Aaron Gordon stepped up, gradually erasing the Lakers’ 12-point lead in the second quarter.

Even when Jokic sat out the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Nuggets extended their lead.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone attributed this resilience to the team’s championship experience. “There’s a confidence that comes with being a champion,” Malone remarked. “Every time we face adversity, we don’t panic. We stick together and find a way to claw back into the game. Winning a championship has instilled tremendous confidence in this group.

3. Nuggets thrive when Gordon imposes physicality

The Nuggets’ winning formula often revolves around the dynamic pick-and-roll tandem of Murray and Jokic. It’s a strategy that served them well during their championship run last season, with a combination of a dominant big man and an agile guard causing headaches for opposing defenses.

Lakers Humbling Sweep Analyzing Defeat and LeBron's Future.
Lakers Humbling Sweep Analyzing Defeat and LeBron’s Future.

However, there’s another dimension to their success, and that’s when Aaron Gordon steps up to assert his presence in the paint. By capitalizing on lob passes and backdoor plays from teammates like Jokic and Murray, Gordon kept the Lakers guessing and exploited defensive lapses. His performance on Thursday, where he recorded playoff career highs of 29 points and 15 rebounds, showcased his potential impact in pivotal playoff moments. If Gordon can consistently deliver at this level, it elevates Denver’s game to new heights.

“Aaron Gordon was simply outstanding,” remarked Nuggets coach Malone.

4. Nuggets showcase their depth and cohesion

The Nuggets’ comprehensive victory should serve as a warning to the rest of the league. Apart from the initial eight minutes of the game, Denver asserted dominance on both ends of the floor.

What’s particularly impressive is that they didn’t heavily rely on their star duo of Jokic and Murray. Instead, they showcased balanced scoring, with four players tallying 20 points or more. This victory epitomized the team’s unity and chemistry, as nearly every player who took the court made meaningful contributions.

Denver’s defensive prowess, especially in crucial moments throughout the series, has also been noteworthy.

“It feels like we have a special connection within this group,” Gordon commented. “There’s a synergy among our starting five.”

As for Jokic’s near-triple-double performance?

“He’s a basketball savant,” Gordon praised.

5. Lakers teetering on the brink of an early offseason

The Lakers now face a daunting task: they must win four consecutive games against a team that has bested them in 11 consecutive matchups, including last summer’s four-game sweep in the Western Conference Finals and the current three-game streak in this series.

It’s essentially a mission impossible scenario, especially considering the historical odds stacked against teams trailing 0-3 in a best-of-seven series — a combined 0-for-151.

Speculation about the fate of role players and Coach Darvin Ham, as well as offseason roster changes, pales in comparison to the pivotal question looming over this defeat: What does losing this series, potentially in a sweep, mean for LeBron James’ future and mentality?

Since joining the Lakers in 2018, LeBron has epitomized the franchise’s championship aspirations. While he’s had a stellar season, turning 40 in December inevitably beckons the specter of decline. With a player option for next season, LeBron will likely opt out and seek a two-year extension. And then there’s the intriguing possibility of the Lakers drafting his son, Bronny, as soon as June.

For a player who unexpectedly found himself in the SoFi Play-In Tournament and now facing imminent elimination in the first round, LeBron must contemplate whether the Lakers can ever assemble a roster formidable enough to challenge a prime Jokic.

The harsh reality is that the NBA landscape has shifted away from LeBron’s dominance, now seemingly under the sway of another player — one with a notable affinity for horses.

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