Lakers avoid elimination by holding off Nuggets in Game 4

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LeBron James, in the Lakers’ white uniform, stood at the scorer’s table, filled his hands with chalk and tossed it into the evening air — the same as always.

Yet Saturday, even if it was like the previous 11 meetings with the Denver Nuggets, was always going to be different.

Before Saturday, a loss didn’t mean the Lakers might make a coaching change.

Before Saturday, a loss didn’t mean the Lakers were going to have to reimagine their roster.

Before Saturday, a loss didn’t mean James might’ve thrown that chalk into the air for the last time as a Laker.

The stakes were so high — but the feeling was so familiar.

With 12 minutes left — two hours or so since James threw the powder into the air — the Lakers were at that point again.

Stand or fall. Resist or crumble. Lead or lose.

Back to Denver or off to Cancún.

For the first time this series — really for the first time since the end of 2022 — the Lakers didn’t fall apart against the Nuggets’ second-half force. They didn’t panic as Denver pushed and as the Lakers’ shots rimmed in and out.

James drove through the Denver defense to hit the big buckets in the fourth quarer, D’Angelo Russell bounced back from a nightmare Game 3, Austin Reaves was aggressive and Anthony Davis dominated as the Lakers won 119-108 to extend their series with the Nuggets at least through Monday.

The win snaps a stretch of 11 straight losses to the Nuggets.

James scored 30, Russell and Reaves had 21 points each and Davis scored 25 with 23 rebounds in the win.

Nikola Jokic scored 33 to go with 14 points and 14 rebounds in the loss.

The Lakers, like they have all series, outplayed Denver early, outscoring them by five to extend their point differential to 27 points in first quarters.

That lead grew to double figures in the second quarter, the fourth time that’s happened this series despite the Nuggets’ spotless record.

It grew to 15 early in the third quarter, as Denver took a timeout to try to gather itself. And while Jokic sank consecutive threes, the Lakers, for the first time this series, punched back.

The Nuggets late-game shot making, which has broken the Lakers’ backs for the last 15 months, surprisingly dried up.

And the Lakers’ attention to detail was at a series high, led by James, who was extra demonstrative. He screamed at the Lakers’ assistant coaches for not calling a timeout to trigger a fourth-quarter review.

And after the Lakers got beat on a backdoor by Aaron Gordon, he yelled at Reaves.

The intensity, which has dipped throughout the series, never faded, the Nuggets never leading.

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