Lakers look to retake control in Game 4 vs. Nuggets

The Los Angeles Lakers seek to take another commanding lead while the Denver Nuggets attempt to avoid another huge hole when the clubs meet in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Thursday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

The third-seeded Nuggets got back into familiar territory — a 2-1 series deficit — when they held off a late Lakers rally for a 114-106 triumph in Game 3 on Tuesday night.

They have lost Game 4 in each of their first two series against Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, however, to fall behind 3-1 before making a pair of historic comebacks.

The top-seeded Lakers, meanwhile, have seized control in their first two rounds against Portland and Houston with a Game 4 win that put them up 3-1 on each occasion. Los Angeles won those games by an average of 15.0 points.

The key to reversing Tuesday’s defeat? LeBron James believes it’s taking better care of the ball and fouling less.

“They played better than us, more aggressive than us through three quarters,” he assessed in the wake of the loss. “We had 16 turnovers for 25 points and put them to the line 29 times. It’s not going to be winning ingredients for us if we continue to do that. And we knew that, even after Game 2, we talked about that, trying to assure that. Got to be better than that Game 4.”

Turnovers have been an issue, but not necessarily a disadvantage, for both teams in the series. The Nuggets have averaged 17.7 in the three games, the Lakers 16.7.

Meanwhile, Denver has flipped a free-throw deficit in the series opener (37-28) by shooting 21 more than the Lakers in the last two games (62-41).

Nuggets coach Michael Malone credits a more aggressive mindset for the increase in his team’s trips to the line, a style of play he told his guys after the Game 3 win that has fans nationwide pulling for the underdogs.

“We’re in this series,” he said in a postgame gathering. “We let them know we’re not going anywhere. That’s what you guys have done this whole postseason. That’s why everybody is rooting for us. Keep on showing that grit and resilience and playing for each other.”

In a series where the scoring of Anthony Davis (95 points) and James (71) has been nearly offset by that of Jamal Murray (74) and Nikola Jokic (73), the impact of a third scorer has aided each team.

The Lakers got 18 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in its 12-point win in Game 1, while the Nuggets benefitted from Jerami Grant’s postseason career-high 26 in their eight-point win in Game 3.

Lakers guard Rajon Rondo notched a piece of NBA history with his eight assists Tuesday. He passed Kobe Bryant for ninth place on the NBA’s all-time postseason list, with another heavyweight — Scottie Pippen — now on Thursday’s radar, just six ahead.

Game 5, which is no longer an “if-necessary,” is scheduled for Saturday. The Lakers have wrapped up both their previous series in five games.