Lakers takeaways: Why Anthony Davis and LeBron James weren't good enough in Game 1

Lakers forward LeBron James drives to the basket against Nuggets guard Jamal Murray during their playoff game Saturday

Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 114-103 loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff matchup with the Denver Nuggets.

Almost isn’t enough

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. goes up to shoot against Lakers forward Anthony Davis.

One of the simplest ways the Lakers could turn around their fate from their multiseason struggles with the Nuggets would be for LeBron James and Anthony Davis, together, to outplay Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Saturday in Game 1, the Lakers’ stars combined for 59 points on 56.4% shooting from the field while grabbing 20 rebounds and dishing out 13 assists. Jokic and Murray? They had 54 on 51% shooting, 18 rebounds and 17 assists.

But the edge to the Lakers, albeit statistically slight, sure didn’t feel like an advantage by the end of Game 1.

Read more: Lakers fade in second half during Game 1 loss to Nuggets

Maybe it was seven turnovers by James (and two by Davis), the exact kind of mistakes a team can’t make when facing a machine like the Nuggets. Maybe it was Davis’ heavy legs in transition after 45 minutes while Jokic ran baseline to baseline.

And Jokic and Murray committed only one turnover between them, the two players who touch it most for Denver valuing the ball in ways the Lakers couldn’t overcome.

While Davis and James were good, they, like virtually everyone who played for the Lakers, weren’t good enough.

“I've never played on the championship team and didn't pay attention to detail,” James said after the loss. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. You have to."

The weaknesses remained weaknesses

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Peyton Watson reach for a rebound in front of Lakers forward Rui Hachimura

Going into the game, the Lakers were focused on two specific areas: defensive rebounding and transition defense.

They lost on both.

“We can't be bad at both,” Davis said. “We can't be bad at defensive rebounding and transition. It's something that we struggle against this team with since last playoffs. And we can't not be, we can't not excel in one of them, especially not both. Once again, that's our Achilles' heel. We have to be better in both departments, if not one."

Combining second-chance and fast-break points, the Nuggets had a 17-point edge.

Read more: Plaschke: Lakers just aren’t good enough to beat the Denver Nuggets

“Just gotta do a better job trying to get hits and then collectively rebound on the defensive glass," James said.

Size, though, is size and the Nuggets have more of it.

Transition, though, is more about focus and will. By the end of the fourth quarter, Davis, who played 45 minutes, was clearly gassed — too many defensive possessions ending with Denver baskets and the Lakers’ defensive anchor around midcourt.

Lakers need more from DLo

Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. goes up to shoot in front of Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell
Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., right, goes up to shoot in front of Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell during Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday in Denver. (Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

D’Angelo Russell was bad against the Nuggets in the playoffs last season, openly targeted and eventually deemed unplayable by the Lakers’ staff.

In Game 1, obviously wanting to right some of those wrongs, Russell shot six for 20 from the field.

“Great looks,” he said. “I mean, I can't be mad. I don't recall the last time I got 20 shots. So for me to get 20 good looks — not 20 'good,' probably five or six of them were questionable. I know what I'm capable of. So, honestly, I'm excited. I'm excited about that.”

Russell’s positivity postgame is a must — the Lakers need him. He has had games when he has shot 30% or worse (Saturday was the 15th this season). The Lakers, though, have won only four of them.

“DLo is a huge reason why we're here in the first place,” coach Darvin Ham said. “I'm not going to bail out on my player just because he's missing the shots that he normally makes. So, same shots were going in against New Orleans and other games that he’s played in to help us get to this point. So, it just wasn’t his night. Shooters are going to have nights like that. But I want him to remain aggressive. That was a good thing, I saw him being aggressive.”

The Lakers need to mix pitches

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic dunks in front of Lakers forward LeBron James
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) dunks in front of Lakers forward LeBron James during Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday in Denver. (Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

One area of some frustration for the Lakers came from Jokic’s second-half performance, with some believing the Lakers were too predictable in their coverages.

Jokic shot eight for 13 in the second half and was efficient all game. However, it’s not as if things got tougher on him as the game progressed.

The Lakers mostly used Rui Hachimura as the primary defender on Jokic, with Davis guarding Jokic more in the fourth.

“Rui's done a great job on him, just being physical with him, pushing catches out, making it tough for him, shooting over the top. Yeah, like we said, we'll look at it and make our adjustments, talk among ourselves and just see were we helping Rui or leaving him on an island when he scored, things like that,” Davis said. “And we'll make a proper adjustment going into Game 2, and if that means I'm on him for the whole game, then so be it.”

Someone has to make shots

Nuggets forward Peyton Watson blocks a shot by Lakers forward LeBron James as guard Christian Braun applies pressure

There’s also some simplicity to this — the Lakers attempted 13 fewer three-pointers and made seven fewer than Denver. That’s a 21-point edge, one the Lakers couldn’t overcome despite shooting 13 more free throws.

More threes for the Lakers? That would help a lot. So would rebounding.

“Everybody is going to lose their mind over one game. Give them their credit. They held serve at home. Tough home team. Tough to beat in general, but they're really good at home,” Ham said. “So it’s a matter of going back to the drawing board. We did a lot of good things out there tonight. Just that one glaring element of rebounding that we gotta clean up and try to figure out.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.