FOX Sports NBA Writer
LeBron James and Anthony Davis sat with their feet in ice buckets in front of their side-by-side lockers.
They didn’t say a word to each other. James looked at his phone. Davis looked from a thousand yards away.
The Lakers overcame a lot this season, but their 119-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals turned their normally cozy locker room into an uncomfortable room of deafening silence after the trade deadline.
The Lakers now sit in a 3-0 gap in the series that no team in NBA history has bridged.
When asked if there’s still a belief they can change things, James made it clear he’s not waving the white flag.
“I can’t speak for the guys right now because I don’t know what’s on 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 right now and start refueling, start the treatment and the recovery process and get ready for Monday. My mindset is always stuck like it’s Game 1.”
The Lakers haven’t lost hope just yet — not with James in their locker room, known for rewriting history.
He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to become the first and only team to recover from a 3-1 series deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals, overwhelming the Golden State Warriors, who had the best regular season record in NBA history (73:9).
He became the league’s all-time leading scorer that season – surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points – despite being a pass-first player in his 20-year career.
And at age 38, he became the oldest player in league history, according to StatHead, averaging 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists.
Despite all expectations, James will attempt to rewrite history once again. Ahead of Monday’s fourth elimination game, James said his message to his team will be simple.
“I mean, I just have to get one,” James said. “Just one thing at a time. Just focus on Game 4. And you know, that’s all you can really think about.”
The Lakers have put up an uphill battle all season.
After they won their play-in game against Minnesota on April 11 to secure seventh place in the West, Lakers coach Darvin Ham wrote on the board “0.3%,” indicating the odds they had Analysis department conceded -10 start after their 2nd game day in the playoffs. At the close, they were 13th in the Western Conference.
Nobody knew that the Lakers would reach the Western Conference Finals.
They’re clinging to that now. You have taken the hardest step to get here. Why not do the seemingly impossible now?
“The deficit is 3-0, not 4,” said Ham. “So until they’re four, there’s still hope. We’re still alive. We just have to focus on winning a game.”
In all three games of that series, the Lakers were within three points of the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. In the last two games they were even in the lead. But every game ended the same way, and the Lakers were blown away by the Nuggets’ size, depth, and superstars.
In Game 3, the Lakers led 94-93 by a point with 7:48 left before the Nuggets put on a 13-0 run.
In fact, the Lakers were chasing all night. Jamal Murray scored 17 points on 8-for-10 shots in the first quarter, giving the Nuggets a 14-point lead, the game’s widest lead. By half-time he had collected 30 of his 37 points in 21 minutes.
The Lakers fought back in the third quarter and leveled the game. But the Lakers all fell apart in the fourth quarter as Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Murray all hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
Once again, the Nuggets proved they had more guns, more talent, and more energy when it mattered.
Aside from James, the Lakers only received notable contributions from Anthony Davis (28 points and 18 rebounds), Austin Reaves (23 points) and Rui Hachimura (13 points). The Nuggets now had five players in double figures.
Now, a Nuggets franchise that has never reached the NBA Finals is poised to make history. And the 17-time Lakers champion is on the verge of doom.
However, Nikola Jokic is far from celebrating.
“I’m not going to say I’m scared to be honest, but I’m worried because they have LeBron on the other side and he’s capable of anything,” said Jokic, who didn’t score until about a four A field goal minutes into the second quarter but ended up with 24 points, six rebounds and eight assists.
“We will come here with the same attitude and focus and I think that will put us in a position to win a game. But we never know. They will be aggressive. Of course they’re going to” “We’re going to be extra physical, more – they’re going to run more.”
Everything is at stake for the Lakers.
They’ve conquered every challenge so far, but this will be their biggest yet.
Now all they can do is grit their teeth and hope they come out on top again – four times in a row.
“Obviously, as you can see over the course of this season, we’ve always been a team to fight,” Davis said. “We are resilient. Everyone keeps fighting until it’s over. It’s not over yet.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has 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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