Nuggets on brink of sweeping LeBron James, Lakers after winning Game 3 112-105

Aaron Gordon had 29 points and 15 rebounds, Nikola Jokic added 24 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, and the Denver Nuggets moved to the brink of the second round with a 112-105 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of their first-round series Thursday night.

Jamal Murray scored 22 points as the defending NBA champion Nuggets won their 11th consecutive meeting with LeBron James and the Lakers in dominating style.

Michael Porter Jr. added 20 points for Denver, which took control in the third quarter and cruised through the final minutes to its fifth straight road win over Los Angeles, starting with its sweep of last season’s Western Conference finals.

Game 4 is Saturday night in Los Angeles. No NBA team has ever rallied from an 0-3 playoff deficit.

Anthony Davis had 33 points and 15 rebounds, and James added 26 points and nine assists in the Lakers’ seventh consecutive postseason loss to Denver over the past two years. Los Angeles hasn’t beaten the Nuggets since Dec. 16, 2022.

Austin Reaves scored 22 points for Los Angeles, which surged into the postseason with largely outstanding play since the holidays, capped by an impressive play-in win over New Orleans to snatch the seventh seed.

But the Nuggets are the same nightmare matchup for the Lakers — or any opponent, really — that they were a year ago in the conference finals.

Davis and James were outstanding once again, but they can’t do it alone. The Lakers missed 15 of their first 16 3-point attempts in Game 3, going nearly 34 minutes between 3-point buckets.

D’Angelo Russell went scoreless in 24 minutes of play for the Lakers, who got only two assists out of their inconsistent third option on offense. Russell missed all seven of his shots, including six 3-point attempts.

Meanwhile, Gordon had his highest-scoring game in the Nuggets’ past two playoff runs, highlighted by 10 points in the third quarter while Denver took control. Jokic made nine of his 13 shots and barely missed his 17th career postseason triple-double.

The second-seeded Nuggets began their title defense with two wins in Denver, pulling away late in Game 1 before snatching Game 2 with a furious comeback capped by Murray’s winning jumper at the buzzer.

After blowing a 20-point lead in the second half of Game 2, the seventh-seeded Lakers were left feeling frustrated, outmanned — and occasionally confused, according to Davis, who said the Lakers sometimes don’t know what they’re doing when faced with Denver’s offensive versatility.

None of those problems had been alleviated in Game 3, and now the Lakers are one loss away from the end of James’ remarkable 21st NBA season. Los Angeles hadn’t played a home game in 16 days, and it has won just once at home since March 24.

The Nuggets went 16-4 in last season’s playoffs, and they appear capable of another steamroll through the postseason after comfortably handling the talented Lakers through three games.

A matchup with Denver is brutal even with the Lakers’ regulars all playing well, and Russell’s disappearing act was compounded by another quiet game from starter Rui Hachimura, who had only five points while taking four shots in 28 minutes.

Denver turned a small halftime deficit into a 10-point lead with a 24-10 run to start the second half led by Gordon and Murray, who combined for 19 points in the third quarter. The Lakers never got closer than eight points down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

While the Lakers’ fans left the building in the final minutes, a small group in the Lakers’ end chanted “Fire Darvin!” toward Lakers coach Darvin Ham.

While the struggles of Hachimura and Russell made it irrelevant, Spencer Dinwiddie had eight points as the Lakers finally got bench scoring from someone other than Taurean Prince, the only Los Angeles reserve to score in those two games in Denver.

Lakers swingman Jarred Vanderbilt didn’t return from the sprained right foot that has kept him out since Feb. 1. Cam Reddish and Christian Wood also remained out with injuries, but Ham said the team will have significant updates Friday.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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