Anthony Davis and LeBron James power Lakers’ Game 1 win over Nuggets

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) defends against a pass by Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis.Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) defends against a pass by Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis.
<figcaption class="C($c-fuji-grey-h) Fz(13px) Py(5px) Lh(1.5)" title="Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, tries to block a pass by Lakers forward Anthony Davis during the first half of the Lakers' win Friday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.  (Mark Terrill / Associated Press)” data-reactid=”18″>

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, tries to block a pass by Lakers forward Anthony Davis during the first half of the Lakers’ win Friday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.  (Mark Terrill / Associated Press)

On their third try this postseason, the Lakers finally won Game 1 of a playoff series.

They beat the Denver Nuggets, 126-114, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

They got 15 points and 12 assists from LeBron James and a monster 37-point, 10 rebound game from Anthony Davis.

“Just telling me to be aggressive,” Davis said during a postgame interview on TNT. “They told me in order for us to get to where we want to go, they’re going to have to lean on me. … Obviously the first time I’ve been in this situation, Western Conference finals. It was new to me, but once the ball gets thrown up, I’m ready to go.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel promised to use his centers more against the Nuggets than he did in the Lakers’ series against the Houston Rockets. He started 7-footer JaVale McGee, after moving away from McGee to close out the previous series. McGee opened the first quarter by swatting away Nuggets center Nikola Jokic’s first shot attempt.

Jokic, though, recovered from the early setback, even while facing Lakers’ double teams. He finished the first quarter with 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. The Lakers trailed, 38-36, after the first quarter with a three-pointer at the buzzer by Nuggets guard Jamal Murray.

James tweaked his ankle early in the second quarter after stepping on Nuggets forward Jerami Grant’s foot, but he didn’t appear injured for long. Moments later, he scored with a powerful two-handed dunk to give the Lakers a 42-38 edge, capping a 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

They tightened their grip further from there. A 6-0 run became a 17-1 run. Not until 6:48 remained in the second quarter did the Nuggets score their first field goal of the period.

Their turnaround had a lot to do with Dwight Howard, the backup center who only played 15 minutes in the entire series against the Rockets. He played eight minutes in the second quarter and the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 16 during his time on the court. His aggressiveness earned him eight free throws in the second quarter alone — overall, the Lakers shot 24 second-quarter free throws and missed 10 of them.

The Nuggets remained within striking distance despite their struggles in the second quarter. Their two stars, Jokic and Murray, sat on the bench with three fouls, but the Lakers couldn’t break open the game.

In the locker room at halftime, with the Lakers up 70-59, Vogel used the Socratic method to remind his team not to underestimate Denver despite its lead.

“What is this team known for?” Vogel said.

“Second-half comebacks,” his players replied.

It wouldn’t be that kind of night for Denver. With a Davis dunk off a Nuggets turnover in the third quarter, the Lakers took a 22 point lead — their largest of the game.

With three Denver players swarming him, Davis pushed the lead again with 38 seconds left in the third quarter, knocking down a hook shot for a 23-point lead.

By the end of the third quarter, Davis had 16 points in the period, Jokic had five fouls and the Lakers had little worry about.

As the fourth quarter progressed, the Nuggets never got much closer. Rajon Rondo threw up a trick shot around the back of the backboard, finishing with nine assists and seven points with two steals. Davis stayed in the game in hopes of reaching 40 points, but eventually sat to watch the end from the bench.

Their Game 1 win was just a start — the Nuggets don’t just play well in the second half, in these playoffs they’ve dominated the second half against the Utah Jazz and the Clippers.

In a pregame locker room speech broadcast over television, Denver coach Mike Malone reminded his team that they were an uncommon group.

“Keep on making history, fellas,” Malone said to the players who had orchestrated two comebacks from 3-1 deficits this postseason. “Keep on making history.”

The Lakers, though, were also interested in history, and Denver’s past was not going to stop them. At least not at first.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.” data-reactid=”49″>Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.

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