The Los Angeles Lakers can't seem to beat the Denver Nuggets. After losing on Saturday night in Game 1 of their opening round playoff series, the Lakers have now lost eight straight games to their rivals in the Mile High City, including their Western Conference Finals series a year ago. Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets are a tough matchup for anyone in this league, but why haven't LeBron James and Anthony Davis been able to take advantage of Denver over the last two seasons? The simple answer is their mental approach.

At this point, nothing phases James and Davis. These two stars have won a championship together, and they understand the challenges of winning in this league. Players like them don't need to be assured by coaches or hear the whole “adjustments spiel” in order to be ready the next time they play, especially in the playoffs. However, the same can't be said about the rest of the Lakers' roster. Role players react differently to losses than stars do, which is why confidence inside the locker room is essential in this series for the Lakers.

When they have their full squad, the Lakers have a very talented team. D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Gabe Vincent all hold playoff experience that is expected to prove valuable in a series against the defending NBA champions.

In Game 1 against Denver, the Lakers had numerous opportunities to come away with a victory. Not only did hold a 33-25 lead over Denver after the opening quarter of play, but Los Angeles pulled ahead by as many as 12 points at one point in the second quarter. LeBron was dialed in during the opening half with 19 points, and it seemed like the rest of the team was up for the assignment defensively.

Once adjustments were made by Michael Malone and the Nuggets in the locker room, they resurfaced onto the court, looking to exploit the Lakers' poor passing. A total of 12 turnovers, seven of which were by James, led to 14 total points for the Nuggets in this game. After outscoring the Lakers 32-18 in the third quarter, Denver held strong in the fourth quarter with their fast-paced and physical defense against a team that always seeks contact in order to get to the free-throw line.

As expected, the Nuggets lead this first-round series after one game, yet the Lakers aren't going to go down as easily as they did a season ago when Denver swept them in order to get to the NBA Finals. Los Angeles is more experienced, and more importantly, they have seemed to find success against the Nuggets in small chunks during the course of games. Now, all this series comes down to is whether or not LeBron and Co. can sustain success for the vast majority of the game instead of just a quarter or two here and there.

Lakers' size can cause problems for Nuggets

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first quarter in game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena.
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets won their first championship in team history last season. Winning a second title is always harder than winning the first, but this is an experienced group that understands how to adjust in the middle of the game to find success. If you need an example of this, just revert back to Game 1 and see how the Nuggets changed their point of attack on both offense and defense to pull away with an 11-point victory.

When you look at what the Lakers achieved in the first half, it is clear to see that they have the personnel needed to match up with the Nuggets. Davis is one of the league's best interior defenders, and the Lakers as a whole are a decent-sized team. While they're certainly not the biggest team in the league, Los Angeles possesses the length that can be bothersome for a team like the Nuggets. Whether or not they can use this to their advantage comes down to the Lakers' willingness to lock in defensively.

Moving forward, Davis can't be this team's only guy on the interior putting in work. LeBron needs to be a factor at certain points in the game defensively, especially when he gets switched on a guy like Jamal Murray, Hachimura is also going to hold a key two-way role. Despite not being known for his defense, Hachimura's 7-foot-plus wingspan can prove to be annoying for Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon to shoot over.

Although they ranked 10th in the league in three-point shooting percentage this season, the Nuggets are not a team that is going to beat teams by launching perimeter shots over the course of the game. Denver wants to attack the paint and get high-scoring opportunities by either getting right to the rim, drawing a foul, or kicking the ball out to the perimeter for a wide-open, high-percentage three-point shot.

The Lakers can take the Nuggets out of their comfort zone, specifically guys like Porter and Gordon, by not allowing them easy scoring opportunities on the interior. Gordon shot 29.0 percent from three-point range this season. Even though Porter is a great three-point shooting threat, he is not always willing to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, as he tends to do his damage on the interior via second-chance scoring opportunities or by cutting to the rim. Staying attached to Porter and making life tough on him will result in turnovers where the Lakers can get out and run the other way.

This is where James and Hachimura come into play the most. LeBron was caught standing and ball-watching too many times in Game 1, which directly resulted in easy dunks or layups for the Nuggets on offense. As time went on, these piled up, and Denver extended their lead or scoring run. For Hachimura, his focus must be on not allowing an ounce of room when guarding Porter. Jokic and Murray are going to do their thing. However, if the Lakers can limit the production of Denver's key secondary players, especially on the interior, they can control the pace of the game in the fourth quarter, something they weren't able to do in Game 1's defeat.

Austin Reaves, D'Angelo Russell capable of three-point success

Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) calls a play during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets in game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena.
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from minor adjustments on defense that will set themselves up for success, the Lakers actually played well on offense, even though they only recorded 103 total points against Denver. Scoring is the name of the game, and if you don't make your shots, you probably aren't going to win the game. That was the case in Game 1 with the Lakers, as their two X-factors — D'Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves — simply missed good looks from the perimeter that they had been used to seeing go down during the final month of the regular season.

Sure, the Nuggets defense was decent, but the fact of the matter is that the Lakers had good, open looks to potentially end scoring droughts and seize momentum in Game 1 in Denver. At the end of the day, Reaves and Russell simply missed open looks, and they also turned some moderate-level shot attempts into harder attempts.

In total, Russell and Reaves shot a combined 3-15 (20 percent) from three-point range against the Nuggets on Saturday night. Reaves missed both of his uncontested jumpers, and he went 1-of-2 on tough shots with a hand in his face. He was 1-of-4 on shot attempts where he had a little bit of space between him and his defender, but there was a hand coming towards him on the run.

Russell shot 0-of-1 on contested jumpers and 1-of-3 on uncontested, wide-open perimeter shots. He was 0-of-4 on slightly contested shots where a defender was separated from him, but running towards D-Lo with a hand in the air.

The point here is that the Lakers got good looks from the perimeter. Ultimately, their shots just didn't fall.

As far as adjustments go, the Lakers played well enough in Game 1 to come out with a win. There is no stopping Jokic on the offensive side of the floor, just like there is no stopping LeBron or Davis. Los Angeles is going to have to really focus on ways to stop those on the Nuggets who can't create for themselves. In doing so, they can either win Game 2 or go back to Los Angeles down 0-2 in this series, feeling confident about their chances of evening things up in front of their home faithful.

A loss in Game 2 is not the end of the world for the Lakers, as this series against the Nuggets certainly has the makings of one that can easily go six or seven games.