Lakers ace best in the West test

James, Davis put on show of force in offence and defence against conference foes Nuggets

DENVER (Colorado) • If Wednesday night at the Pepsi Centre was a preview of what is to come in the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers appear all set to make a strong championship run both in offence and defence.

Anthony Davis scored a game-high 33 points and LeBron James had a triple-double as the Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 120-116 in overtime in their final game before the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star break.

James showed his two-way prowess, finishing with 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds and making several clutch stops on defence down the stretch.

He also recorded his 12th triple-double of the season to tie Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks for the league lead.

"I was trying to be laser sharp, laser focused as I could," the forward said on ESPN.

"I know the break was coming, but I wanted to play extremely well tonight for our ball club and I wanted us to play extremely well going into the break on a high note.

"Every opportunity we get to play in a close game against a tough opponent, it's a learning experience for all of us.

"It prepares us for a post-season game where it's going to be back and forth, back and forth. I thought tonight was a play-off atmosphere for both teams, being No. 1 and No. 2 in the Western Conference, jockeying for position."

The Lakers (41-12) ended the first half on a 25-6 run to take a 61-55 lead. But the Nuggets, who dropped to 38-17, fought back to take an 87-84 advantage into the fourth period.

They were still up 103-97 with 4min 16sec left in regulation. The Lakers then scored six straight to tie it and took a 109-105 lead when James fed Alex Caruso for a lay-up with 1:43 left.

Nikola Jokic, who finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, hit two free throws and passed to Jerami Grant for a lay-up to get Denver within 111-109, and Gary Harris hit a lay-up with 23.9sec left to tie it again.

James missed a jumper in the final seconds and it went to overtime.

Davis stepped up with seven points in the extra period, including a three-pointer, to put the Lakers ahead 119-116 with 2:41 left.

 REUTERS
Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis on his way to scoring a game-high 33 points in the 120-116 overtime defeat of the Denver Nuggets despite the marking of guard Jamal Murray at the Pepsi Centre on Wednesday. PHOTO: REUTERS

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    Triple-doubles for LeBron James this season, the most in the league alongside the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic.

Crucially, the Nuggets missed their last five shots and had a turnover in the final three minutes.

"Our defence got us back in the game and we came down and finished at the end of the game," said Davis. "We wanted to make sure we came in and got a win on the road heading into the All-Star game."

Jamal Murray had a team-high 32 points and 10 assists, while Grant had 15 points for Denver, who had their four-win streak stopped.

Harris scored 13 points and Monte Morris added 12 for the Nuggets, who lost both home games to Los Angeles this season.

Nuggets coach Mike Malone said his side's display in overtime was "very un-Nugget-like" but he also commended them in an interview with the Denver Post.

He said: "Cannot fault the effort by our guys. Our guys gave everything they had.

"A tough loss at home going into the break. Couldn't be more proud of our guys."

In New York, Caris LeVert scored 20 points as the Brooklyn Nets recorded a 101-91 victory over defending champions Toronto Raptors, who saw their team-record, 15-game win streak come to an end.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'Lakers ace best in the West test'. Print Edition | Subscribe