Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 18 points and Dwight Howard joined the rotation with 13 in a powerful comeback in the conference finals for the Lakers, who had not made the four NBA Finals since their last championship in 2010.
Los Angeles gave up the first game against Portland and Houston before winning the next four games. The Lakers were quick to brush off any rust for another long in-bubble layoff against a Denver team that had things much tougher.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., each scored 21 points for the Nuggets, making the conference final 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 so twice in the postseason. The Nuggets immediately fell behind, digging a big hole when Jokic and Murray each hit three faults in the first half that deepened in the second half.
Game 2 is Sunday.
Davis scored 14 points in the first quarter, but the Nuggets shot nearly 64 percent, Murray’s 3-point pointer at the end of time giving them a 38-36 lead.
Alex Caruso converted a three-point game to open the second and start a 17-1 run by the Lakers to start the period and take it to 53-39 before the Nuggets made their first basket after more than five minutes.
The header remained there for the remainder of the half, as the Lakers paraded to the foul line while Jokic, Murray and Paul Millsap went on the bench with three fouls. Los Angeles shot a whopping 24 free throws in the period – more baskets than either team did in the half – and led 70-59 at the break.
An 11-2 flurry in the third blew it up to 92-71 and the Lakers returned home.
Nuggets: The Nuggets fell to 7-22 against the Lakers in the postseason. … Denver’s 16 second-quarter fouls tied the most by any team in a quarterback this season. It was the first time this season that Murray and Jokic had both fouled three times before half-time.
Lakers: Rondo region had nine assists to give him 1,025 in the playoffs, overtaking Michael Jordan (1,022) for 10th place on the NBA career roster. … Howard missed three games and only played 4 1/2 minutes in the last four minutes against the Smallball Rockets.
VOTE THE BIRD
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was a little surprised that Giannis Antetokounmpo was so far ahead of James in voting for the MVP award, receiving 85 first-place votes to 16 for James.
“No lack of respect for Giannis, Giannis had a good season. He’s a great player, but what LeBron does for our team for me is second to none, ”said Vogel. “To carry the threat of going for 40 at any time, but leading the league in assists and quarterback in our defense and leading our team to as many wins as we’ve had and our playoff success, for me, he is our MVP.
“But I understand how the voting goes and quite frankly our entire group and I’m sure LeBron would echo that, he’s focused on something bigger than individual accolades. ”
MILE HIGH MICHAELS
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he had been in contact with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who spoke to him about his country’s passion.
“He told me it was so great to see the city come together and unite behind a wellness story in the Nuggets and we still have a lot of work to do,” said Malone. “So we appreciate all the love and support at home, without a doubt.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports