DENVER – The Denver Nuggets set their sights on San Francisco soon after an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, 146-141, Sunday at Ball Arena.
“The (regular) season’s over,” a frustrated Michael Malone said after the Lakers used a 15-4 run in the final 3:20 of regulation to force overtime. “No one got hurt tonight, and we’re focused on moving forward and preparing for Golden State.”
With Golden State, Dallas and Utah all winning Sunday, the Warriors secured the three seed in the Western Conference and a first-round meeting with the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets (48-34).
“I like it. I think no matter who we had, I think we’re ready for it,” Bryn Forbes said of the matchup. “We had a pretty good stretch here late in the season where we won a lot of games. Hopefully, we can carry that over.”
In preparation for the playoffs, Nikola Jokic (right wrist soreness), Aaron Gordon (left hamstring management), Will Barton III (right knee soreness) and Monte Morris (left elbow soreness) got the night off to tend to minor injuries, while LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook were among the inactive Lakers.
Markus Howard led the Nuggets with 25 points, 14 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Bryn Forbes added 24 points, while Bones Hyland (17), DeMarcus Cousins (17), Jeff Green (16), Davon Reed (14) and JaMychal Green (11) also reached double figures. Cousins appeared in 30 games for the Warriors in 2018-19.
“Obviously, we’re playing two of the greatest shooters of all time. (They’re) constant threats on the floor from basically anywhere,” Cousins said of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson who have won a few championship rings with the Warriors. “They’re a well-oiled machine. They have championship DNA. They’ve been here plenty of times.”
Malik Monk led the Lakers with a career-high 41 points, while Austin Reaves posted a 31-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist triple-double.
Vlatko Cancar, who hadn’t played since Jan. 3, and Zeke Nnaji, who last played March 9, both returned to the rotation Sunday. Cancar finished with two points and eight rebounds in nearly 24 minutes, while Nnaji posted five points and two rebounds in just over 26 minutes.
The Nuggets started Bones Hyland, Bryn Forbes, Austin Rivers, Jeff Green and DeMarcus Cousins, a group that struggled to rebound and keep the Lakers out of the paint. Los Angeles finished the first quarter with a 36-33 lead behind 22 points in the paint and seven offensive rebounds, which led to seven points.
Facundo Campazzo’s chance at extended minutes was cut short when he was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul with 7:24 left in the second quarter. The Nuggets and Lakers finished the first half tied at 69.
Forbes and Hyland completed four-point plays in the third quarter to give the Nuggets a 13-point lead to start the fourth quarter. Denver stretched the lead to 17 early in the fourth before the Lakers forced overtime behind Reaves’s 3-pointer, steal and transition layup in the final 20 seconds. Davon Reed got a good look at a game-winner but hit the front of the rim.
Reaves hit his third 3-pointer in the final minute of overtime, giving the Lakers a five-point lead they would not lose.
“Great experience for the guys that were out there,” Malone said. “Obviously, a very disappointing fourth quarter. We played no defense (and) gave up 40 points.”
The Nuggets and Warriors will start their first-round series Saturday night in San Francisco.
“Focus and the attention to detail has got to be at a much higher level than in the regular season,” Forbes said after winning a championship with Milwaukee last season. “Also, you’ve got to be able to adjust, because you’ve got a team that’s just spent a week preparing for you and everything that you do and watching a lot of film. They’re going to try and change everything you do and take away what you’re best at. If we can do the same, and we can adjust, we’ll be fine.”