Lakers roll past Nuggets 126-114 in NBA western conference finals opener

The top-seeded Lakers opened a double-digit lead in the first half that they easily extended in the third quarter. (AP)
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Updated 19 September 2020

Lakers roll past Nuggets 126-114 in NBA western conference finals opener

  • Top-seeded Lakers opened a double-digit lead in the first half that they easily extended in the third quarter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: Slow starters in the first two rounds, the Los Angeles Lakers appeared to be in a hurry to put away the Denver Nuggets.
It was a strong statement to their opponent — and maybe to the NBA’s MVP voters.
Anthony Davis had 37 points and 10 rebounds, LeBron James added 15 points and 12 assists hours after finishing a distant second in the MVP voting, and the Lakers rolled to a 126-114 victory on Friday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
The top-seeded Lakers opened a double-digit lead in the first half that they easily extended in the third quarter.
“It took a quarter for us to kind of figure it out,” James said. “Not saying we fully figured them out because it’s too early in the series to say that, but we started to get a better feel. Just started to get in a better rhythm defensively and we started to get some stops in that second quarter and we were able to build that lead up going into halftime.”
James acknowledged being “pissed off” at receiving just 16 first-place votes to winner Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 85 from a panel of global sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league, and the Nuggets may have felt the wrath of that.
“It definitely sparks him and like he got a chip on his shoulder like he’s got something to prove,” Davis said.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 18 points and Dwight Howard rejoined the rotation with 13 in a powerful return to the conference finals for the Lakers, who hadn’t been to the NBA’s final four since winning their last championship in 2010.
Los Angeles dropped Game 1 against both Portland and Houston before winning the next four games. The Lakers quickly knocked off any rust for another long layoff in the bubble against a Denver team that’s had things much tougher.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 21 points for the Nuggets, playing in the conference finals for the first time since the Lakers beat them in 2009.
Denver overcame 3-1 deficits against Utah and the Clippers, becoming the first team to do that twice in a postseason. The Nuggets immediately fell behind again, digging themselves a big hole when Jokic and Murray each picked up three fouls in the first half that just got deeper in the second half.
“We know how it’s going to be. We know we’re the younger team. We’re just going to play through it,” Murray said about the fouls discrepancy. “We’re going to find a way and we’re not going to go away so easy.”
Game 2 is Sunday.
Davis scored 14 points in the first quarter, but the Nuggets shot nearly 64 percent, with Murray’s 3-pointer as time expired giving them a 38-36 lead.
Alex Caruso converted a three-point play to open the second and start a 17-1 run by the Lakers to start the period and make it 53-39 before the Nuggets made their first field goal after more than five minutes.
The lead stayed right around there for the remainder of the half, as the Lakers paraded to the foul line while Jokic, Murray and Paul Millsap went the bench with three fouls. Los Angeles shot a whopping 24 free throws in the period — more baskets than either team made in the half — and led 70-59 at the break.
An 11-2 burst in the third blew it open at 92-71 and the Lakers cruised home.


Real Madrid aim to put crisis behind them

Updated 31 October 2020

Real Madrid aim to put crisis behind them

MADRID:  Real Madrid will be hoping to leave their sticky patch behind them when they play Huesca in La Liga on Saturday, with an early six-point lead to preserve over Barcelona.

The resignation of Barca’s club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has overshadowed what has been a dramatic week for Madrid, who barely salvaged a 2-2 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Trailing 2-0 with three minutes left, Madrid were facing a defeat that would have squandered the momentum gained from last weekend’s Clasico win at Camp Nou.

A late double from Karim Benzema and Casemiro ensured Zinedine Zidane’s side snatched a draw that felt like a win but to consolidate that positivity, they cannot afford another slip this weekend.

“The team is what it has shown, it’s about a reaction,” said Zidane. “The first half was very good, we played well. The pity is we conceded the first goal, but we continued to think it was possible, even at 2-0.

“That showed the character of the team and I’m very proud of them. We are not happy because we want to win, but we must be happy with the performance.”

Madrid play a Huesca side that is yet to win this season, as they followed four consecutive draws with a 4-1 loss away at league leaders Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Zidane could also hand Eden Hazard his first start since August, after the Belgian came off the bench in midweek.

That was Hazard’s first appearance of the season as he tries to overcome his latest injury setback, which the club have only described as a muscle injury.

“It’s good. I’m here to play football,” said Hazard on Wednesday. “After two or three months off the pitch, I’m so happy. I just want to play football, that’s why I’m here.”

On the last-gasp draw in Germany, Hazard said: “We showed great character, to be 2-0 down with five minutes to play, I think we could have scored one more, I could have scored one more, but I missed. It’s not three points but it feels like a victory.”

Zidane was determined to give Hazard time to recover fully and he believes the club will have to be cautious.

“He’s just started playing. It is his first game after a long time away,” said Zidane. “The plan was for him to try to play but little by little is what we have to do.”

A Madrid victory against Huesca could send them back to the top of the table, above Real Sociedad who are the only team to have retained top spot in consecutive rounds so far this term.

Real Sociedad play away at Celta Vigo on Sunday, just before third-placed Granada host Levante and struggling Valencia play at home to Getafe.

If Atletico Madrid win their two games in hand they will go top, with Diego Simeone’s side away at Osasuna on Saturday.

Barcelona, who beat Juventus on Wednesday, also have two games in hand but are seven points off the lead. Their new era without Bartomeu begins in La Liga away at Alaves on Saturday night.