The Los Angeles Lakers were swept by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets won Game 4 of the series by a score of 113-111 on Monday night, May 23, 2023, to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Let’s look at the four Lakers players who are most to blame for the Western Conference Finals sweep by the Nuggets.
Despite LeBron James’ impressive average of 27.8 points per game, the Lakers were overpowered by the youthful and determined Nuggets. Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ star player, spearheaded their success with an average of 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists per game. The Lakers struggled to contain the Nuggets’ proficient 3-point shooting, as they connected on 40.3 percent of their attempts and hit 14.5 triples per contest.
The Lakers’ defeat marked a disappointing conclusion to their tumultuous season, which had initially shown promise during an unexpected playoff run. To reclaim their position in the NBA Playoffs next season, the team will need to address their defensive shortcomings and seek increased contributions from their supporting players. By rectifying these areas, the Lakers have the potential to become a formidable force within the Western Conference in the upcoming season. For now, however, they can only look back at this season-ending loss and try to see how they faltered.
Here are four of the people who have been most responsible for the Lakers’ struggles in this series.
.@stephenasmith is placing blame for the Lakers' demise 😳— First Take (@FirstTake) May 23, 2023
"Are we just going to ignore the fact that Anthony Davis had four points in the first half? … Don't get me started with D'Angelo Russell. … No threat whatsoever. Just awful." pic.twitter.com/FeJEG5jDCb
.@stephenasmith is placing blame for the Lakers’ demise 😳
“Are we just going to ignore the fact that Anthony Davis had four points in the first half? … Don’t get me started with D’Angelo Russell. … No threat whatsoever. Just awful.” pic.twitter.com/FeJEG5jDCb
— First Take (@FirstTake) May 23, 2023
1. Darvin Ham
Darvin Ham’s first Western Conference Finals series as head coach of the Lakers ended in a disappointing 4-0 sweep by the Nuggets. While there were positives, like the emergence of young players Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, there were areas where Ham could have performed better.
Defensive concerns loomed large for Ham, as the Lakers consistently struggled to contain the Nuggets’ scoring in the paint and allowed them to shoot at a high percentage. Although Ham attempted lineup adjustments, the Nuggets found success against the Lakers’ defensive schemes. Ham also faced criticism for his in-game adjustments with the Lakers appearing one step behind the Nuggets throughout the series.
While the series was challenging, Ham, being a relatively young head coach, possesses great potential. He showcased some positive aspects during the playoffs and has an opportunity to learn from these mistakes to return stronger next season. Areas for improvement include allocating more minutes to the big men, experimenting with rotations, and making timely in-game adjustments.
2. D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell’s performance in the Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets proved underwhelming. He averaged just 6.3 points per game on 32.3 percent shooting from the field and 13.3 percent from beyond the arc. We thought he might be the Lakers’ No. 3 option in this series. However, he turned out to be a nonfactor on offense. Russell struggled to find his rhythm against the Nuggets’ tough defense, often failing to create his own shot.
Russell’s shortcomings played a significant role in the Lakers’ series sweep by the Nuggets, necessitating improvement from him for the team’s future championship aspirations. Enhancements include being more assertive on offense and increasing shooting efficiency.
3. Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder’s performance in the Western Conference Finals showcased a mixture of successes and shortcomings. He averaged 7.0 points per game on 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steal per game.
While Schroder provided valuable offensive contributions, his defensive struggles were evident. He faced challenges guarding Jamal Murray, who scored an average of 32.5 points per game on remarkable shooting percentages.
Schroder’s defensive struggles significantly impacted the Lakers’ series sweep against the Nuggets. This highlighted the need for defensive improvement if he aims to remain a crucial contributor next season. Specific areas to address include displaying better awareness of opponents’ tendencies and improved communication with teammates.
4. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis’ performance in the Western Conference Finals was a blend of achievements and disappointments. He averaged 26.8 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting from the field. Additionally, he recorded 14.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.
While Davis provided big numbers on paper, he struggled defensively, particularly against Nikola Jokic. Again, Jokic just repeatedly found ways to be the offensive anchor for the Nuggets. He made shots over AD and just could not be stopped no matter what Davis did.
Game 1, in particular, exposed Davis’ defensive deficiencies, as he allowed Jokic to dominate with 34 points on 12-of-17 shooting. Jokic also had 21 rebounds and 14 dimes in that game.
Davis’ struggles to contain the two-time MVP significantly underscored how overmatched he was in this series. In this duel between elite big men, it was crystal clear that AD was found wanting.