FOX Sports NBA Writer
LeBron James and Anthony Davis sat in front of their lockers together with their feet in ice buckets.
They didn’t say a word to each other. James looked at his phone. Davis had a thousand yard stare.
The Lakers have overcome a lot this season, but their 119-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals transformed their typically jovial post-trade deadline locker room into an awkwardly packed space of a deafening silence.
The Lakers are now in a 3-0 series hole, something no team in NBA history has ever overcome.
When asked if there is still a belief that things can change, James made it clear that he is not waving the white flag.
“I can’t speak for the guys right now, because I don’t know what’s going through their minds right now, but I still know,” said James, who had 23 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists.
“So, you know, it’s time to go home and start refueling and start the treatment process and the recovery process and get ready for Monday. My mindset is always locked in like it’s the first game.”
The Lakers haven’t given up hope yet, not with James in the locker room, who is known for rewriting history.
He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to become the first and only team to come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals, stunning the record-setting Golden State Warriors regular season in NBA history (73-9).
He became the league’s all-time leading scorer this season, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points, despite being a pass-first player during his 20-season career.
And at 38, he became the oldest player in league history averaging 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists, according to StatHead.
So, against impossible odds, James will attempt to rewrite history once again. Heading into Game 4 on Monday, James said his message to his team will be simple.
“I mean, I only have one,” James said. “Just one at a time. Focus on Game 4. And, you know, that’s all you can think about.”
The Lakers have been struggling all season.
After winning their play-in game against Minnesota on April 11 to clinch the seventh seed in the West, Lakers coach Darvin Ham wrote on the board “0.3 %”, which meant the chances their analytics department gave them to make the playoffs after their 2. -10 start. At the trade deadline, they were in 13th place in the Western Conference.
No one predicted that the Lakers would reach the finals of the Western Conference.
Now they cling to it. They have worked hard to get here. Why not do what seems impossible now?
“The deficit is 3-0, not 4,” Ham said. “So as long as it’s not four yet, there’s still hope. We’re still alive. We just have to focus on winning one game.”
In all three games of this series, the Lakers have been within three points of the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. In the last two games, they have even held leads. But every game has ended the same way, with the Lakers overwhelmed by the Nuggets’ size, depth and superstars.
In Game 3, the Lakers took a one-point lead with 7:48 left, 94-93, before the Nuggets went on a 13-0 run.
Really, the Lakers were playing catch-up all night. Jamal Murray scored 17 points in the first quarter on 8-for-10 shooting to give the Nuggets a game-high 14-point lead. By halftime, he had 30 of his 37 points in 21 minutes.
The Lakers clawed their way back to tie the game in the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, things fell apart for the Lakers when Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Murray hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
Once again, the Nuggets proved they had more weapons, more talent and more energy when it counted most.
Apart from James, the Lakers only got significant contributions from Anthony Davis (28 points and 18 rebounds), Austin Reaves (23 points) and Rui Hachimura (13 points). Meanwhile, the Nuggets had five players in double figures.
Now, a Nuggets franchise that has never reached the NBA Finals is about to make history. And the Lakers, 17-time champions, are about to be swept.
Nikola Jokic is far from celebrating, though.
“To be honest, I won’t say I’m scared, but I’m worried because they have LeBron on the other side, and he can do everything,” said Jokic, who didn’t score. field goal until about 4 minutes into the second quarter, but finished with 24 points, six rebounds and eight assists.
“We’re going to come here with the same mindset, the same approach, and I think that’s going to put us in a situation to win a game. But you never know. They’re going to be aggressive. Of course, they’re going to be more physical, more, run more.” .
For the Lakers, everything is on the line.
So far, they have persevered through every challenge they have faced, but this will be their biggest yet.
Now all they can do is grit their teeth and hope they prevail once again, four times in a row.
“Obviously, as you’ve seen throughout this season, we’ve always been a fighting team,” Davis said. “We’re resilient. Everyone keeps fighting until it’s over. It’s not over.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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