In the last sixteen months, the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets have played each other nine times, and in each of those meetings, the Nuggets have come away victorious, including last night in the Nuggets 114-103 Game 1 victory over LA. Rarely in the career of LeBron James have we seen a team so clearly have The King's number. Even as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the vaunted Golden State Warriors didn't have as much sustained success against LeBron as the Nuggets have since January 2023. But the 21-year veteran has been around the block quite a few times, so he knows this isn't yet the time for panic.

“I thought we played some good ball tonight, just could have been better,” James said matter-of-factly after the game, per the Associated Press. “You don't have much room for error versus Denver's team, especially at their home floor. They're just a team that's been through everything. Obviously, they're the defending champions, so you gotta execute, you gotta make shots, you gotta defend. And then you can't give them extra possessions.”

For a good chunk of the game, the Lakers did play some good ball. Thanks to a deep LeBron James three-pointer at the buzzer to end the 1st half, the Lakers went into the halftime locker room with a lead against Denver for the fourth time in their previous nine games against the Nuggets. But just as was the case the previous three times, a 2nd half Colorado avalanche (pun intended) ended up burying the Lakers.

According to Anthony Davis, it was “early turnovers and poor shooting” in the 3rd quarter that doomed the Lakers (h/t Mike Trudell of Spectrum Sports Net), but the Nuggets didn't start the 3rd quarter on a heater. The Lakers had the opportunities to build on their three-point halftime lead, but weren't able to do so. It took nearly six minutes before the Nuggets would take the lead on a second-chance opportunity for Michael Porter Jr., who knocked down a triple to give Denver a 72-71 advantage. From that point on, the Nuggets would outscore the Lakers 17-7 to close the 3rd quarter. LA would cut Denver's lead to just six points halfway through the final frame, but that was the closest they could get.

As LeBron stated, there isn't much room for error against a team as good as the Denver Nuggets. Take a look at the stats, and you'll see this as a game the Lakers absolutely could've won. LA shot better from the field — 49 percent to 46 percent for Denver — and as usual, they had a noticeable advantage at the free throw line, making twelve more freebies than the Nuggets. Typically, that would be a recipe for success. But the Nuggets outscored the Lakers by 21 points behind the arc, secured nine more offensive rebounds than LA, and committed eight fewer turnovers. The Nuggets played a perfectly clean 2nd half, never once turning the ball over in the final 24 minutes of the game.

What adjustments the Lakers make ahead of Game 2 remains to be seen. One that has to be considered would be having Anthony Davis, a bonafide Defensive Player of the Year candidate, spending more time guarding Nikola Jokic than he did in Game 1. Jokic is perhaps the most difficult cover in the league, and in Game 1 against LA he feasted, putting up 32 points on 15-for-23 shooting.

“We'll look at it and make our adjustments, talk among ourselves and just kind of see,” Anthony Davis said after the game when asked what the Lakers would do with the soon-to-be three-time league MVP (h/t Lakers Nation Twitter). “We'll make the proper adjustments going into Game 2, if I have to be on him the whole game then so be it.”

I'm not positive that this will make a difference. The Joker is as scheme-proof a player as there is in the league, a title he may have taken from LeBron James, who for the longest time could be described as such. No matter what you do with him, he's going to find a way to make you pay. And unfortunately for the Lakers, figuring out how to slow down Nikola Jokic isn't the only problem they need to solve.