Lakers falter again, on brink of another 4-0 exit

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LOS ANGELES — Having just logged the 285th playoff game of his career — clearing the entire Denver Nuggets starting five’s combined 275 — Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James spoke from plenty of experience when he detailed what it takes to thrive in the postseason after Thursday night’s 112-105 Game 3 loss.

“You’re supposed to have anxiety and pressure — or feel the pressure,” James said after Denver went up 3-0 in their first-round series, one win away from sweeping L.A. into its summer for a second straight year. “That’s what it’s about. This is what the postseason is about.”

With Anthony Davis to his right, James endorsed his and the Lakers center’s ability to perform when the games matter most. The pair combined for 59 points. James finished with 26 points on 12-for-20 shooting, six rebounds and nine assists, while Davis led L.A. with 33 points on 14-for-23 shooting and 15 boards.

He didn’t say the same for the rest of the Lakers, who were outplayed by a Denver team that had two players, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., each top the 20-point plateau to back stars Nikola Jokic (29 points, 15 rebounds) and Jamal Murray (22 points, nine assists).

Asked if the Lakers were overwhelmed by the Nuggets’ level of execution, James said, “You’d have to ask the individuals that question and see how they feel. It’s hard for me just to be like, ‘This is what I think that guy feels.’ … I can’t do that. I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know.”

Nobody was able to ask Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell that question. After going scoreless in Game 3 on 0-for-7 shooting (0-for-6 from 3), he declined to speak to reporters after the game, according to a team spokesperson.

“We’ve been — me and this guy [Davis] have been playing together for six years,” James continued. “We’ve been to the mountaintop. We’ve been close to the mountaintop. We’ve played a lot of games. We know what it takes to win. We know what it takes to win a championship and how damn near perfect you got to be. That’s not like something that’s so crazy to obtain.”

It seems somewhat impossible for the Lakers against the Nuggets, however. They’ve lost 11 straight games against Denver, the fifth-longest active streak by any franchise against a team. And the four teams ahead of the Lakers on that list — Detroit, Houston, Charlotte and Portland — haven’t been remotely close to a championship in recent years.

Denver wasn’t untouchable in Game 3. L.A. opened with an 8-0 lead, causing the Nuggets to call timeout just a minute and 50 seconds after tipoff with the roof ready to blow off the building from the hometown fans. And just like the 12-point advantage the Lakers built in Game 1 and the 20-point lead they had in Game 2, they led by as many as 12 on Thursday.

Then came the third quarter, when Denver outscored them 34-22. The Nuggets have now outscored L.A. by 31 in third quarters through three games; in the nine other quarters, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 11.

“Our third quarter’s been atrocious,” said guard Austin Reaves, the only Lakers player to score in double-digits besides James and Davis, albeit with 10 of his 22 points coming late in the fourth quarter after the Nuggets had taken control.

While the sullen expressions of the Lakers’ bench and coaching staff late in the game suggested this series is all but over, there is still another home game for L.A. to host Saturday in Game 4.

Davis said the Lakers must clean up their rebounding after giving up 19 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds and continue to get back in transition defensively and put more points on the board.

“We got to score,” Davis said. “We only had 20 in the second [quarter], 22 in the third. A team like that, who is going to score, we got to be able to score as well.”

The Lakers are averaging just 102.3 points in the series. L.A. averaged 124.4 points in the 12 wins it had in its final 15 regular-season games plus the play-in tournament leading into the Denver series.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, are staying on high alert.

“I think every game is tougher and tougher,” Jokic said. “They were up 20 in Denver, they were up 12 today in the first half. I think it’s really hard to play against the same team over again. You can’t get bored with the style of the play or whatever. You just need to keep doing you, especially for us — because we won the last three — and just trust what we are doing and don’t get bored with success because it can go wrong really quick.”

Which is all L.A. can hope for at this point — some crack in the Nuggets’ foundation the Lakers can find to extend the season.

“It’s one game at a time, at this point,” James said. “You lose, you go home. So we’re going come in with the mindset of, ‘Let’s get one.’ Force a Game 5 and then we go from there. So as long as you still have life, then you always have belief. I just think you play until the wheels fall off.”

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne contributed to this report.

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