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COA News 2024

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‘We’ll all shoot better next game’

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, 27, warms up before the Nuggets play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs at Ball Arena in Denver on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Photo by Andy Cross/ The Denver Post)

If what Jamal Murray says is true, the Lakers have already missed the opportunity to turn this playoff rematch into a compelling series.

Murray believes the Nuggets had too much adrenaline early in Game 1 before walking away with a 114-103 victory that extended their head-to-head win streak to nine games. He believes the excitement affected the Nuggets’ shooting, including his own, on open looks. They had to settle down, and eventually they did.

It reminded him of their 2023 playoff opener.

“I think it’s just a bigger energy (in the beginning), you know what I mean? You put a little more effort into your jump shots. I certainly did,” Murray said. “I remember last year, Game 1 against Minnesota, it was the same thing. You just expect so much energy and so much adrenaline to flow through your body. Sometimes you just have to relax and just take a shot like it’s an exercise. I didn’t shoot like I did in the first half.”

Back in Los Angeles, there’s an ominous subtext behind that observation: The Nuggets went 6 for 23 (26%) from 3-point range in Saturday’s first half, mostly on quality looks created by double-teams on Nikola Jokic… and stood only behind 60-57.

The Lakers needed flawless game planning and execution in the first quarter (they finished the frame with an offensive rating of 137.5) and some baffling misses from Denver to emerge with a one-possession lead at intermission. Then the Nuggets made five of their first eight three-pointers after halftime, and Game 1 was over.

If what Murray says is true, if that first half isn’t going to be repeated because it was just an annual case of Game 1 jitters, then the Lakers might need a miracle to fix this upset.

For what it’s worth, in Game 1 against the Timberwolves, Murray shot 3 for 10 from the floor in the first half. The rest of the series he was 48.9% from the field and 43.6% from 3-point range. Denver advanced in five games.

Murray was 3 for 11 in the first half of this Game 1.

What exactly does ‘shoot as is’ mean, anyway?

“It’s your whole mood and mind,” Murray explained. “You can rush (your shot). You can’t put your feet. You can still hit it, of course. But I felt like I rushed my shot early. I’m so excited to see it go in, I think. I remember last year it was the same thing against Minnesota. It took me until the second half to make a few.

“So – not just me – I think we will all shoot better next game.”

Speaking of mirror images of last year, if what Lakers coach Darvin Ham says is true, it could lead to another four-game sweep.

Ham told reporters that the Lakers still needed to make a few defensive adjustments against Jokic, who amassed 32 points on 65% shooting with no turnovers in Game 1. Rui Hachimura guarded him for most of the series opener and often faced him in an attempt to refuse mail catches. In the first half, sending a second defender to the ball worked against Jokic as his teammates missed those open 3s. Not so much later. The two-time MVP also saw a bit of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. After the loss, Ham said the Lakers didn’t want to use all their adjustments in Game 1.

Rewind the tape to Game 1 of the 2023 Western Conference Finals.

In the fourth quarter, Hachimura took over Jokic’s primary play, while Davis came to him with help from the weak side. It achieved brief success.

“We didn’t want to go too deep into the adjustments in the game,” Ham said after that match. “It’s still the ultimate chess game. So we were satisfied with the results. It gave us a chance to get back into the game. And it’s one of those things that if we need to go back to it, we know it’s there. But along with some other things we didn’t reveal tonight.

That little tease sparked a whole news cycle of gaming speculation and debate. It turns out that the secrets he didn’t reveal that night were three more losses.

It’s now been nine straight losses for Denver, and yet Ham’s comments indicate an eerily similar approach to this rematch, as if he and the Lakers haven’t fully learned their lesson yet.