Nuggets Lakers Basketball

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) shoots over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Final series Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Monday could be a day of Nuggets firsts. First NBA Finals clincher. First playoff sweep. Here's how the Nuggets beat the Lakers in Game 4:

1. Did you notice in Game 3 how the Nuggets treated the first quarter as a must-win? That was by design. Jamal Murray in attack mode helped build a 32-20 lead. Oh, and you should have heard Arena. Crickets. Know how Mile High Stadium can influence the officiating and rattle visiting teams? That’s true for the Lakers’ crowd, too. If the Nuggets can set a confident early tone, the Lakers, trailing 3-0, might book Cancun flights at halftime.

2. There’s an awkward dynamic at work with Lakers fans, at least those surveyed by The Denver Gazette. They love their Lakers. No doubt. But LeBron James has not been embraced the same as L.A.’s other headliners. A half-decade into his L.A. chapter, James shows one trip to the NBA Finals, and the bubble carries an asterisk. Bet your bottom dollar “King James” will try his darnedest to avoid the third playoff sweep of a spectacular pro career.

3. Nikola Jokic the golfer would show the quietest 7-under-par 65 possible. In Game 3, Jokic struggled through 9 of 19 shooting — and somehow the Nuggets were 15 points better than the Lakers when Big Honey was on the court. That makes 10 straight games Jokic had a positive plus-minus, the longest postseason streak of his career. His (very) big brothers Nemanja and Strahinja are seated behind the Nuggets’ bench. The Serbs want a sweep. Bad.

—Paul Klee, The Denver Gazette

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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