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Lakers forced to dig deep without LeBron James, Dennis Schroder in victory over Nuggets

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, center, shoots as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., right, defends and guards Alex Caruso watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Monday, May 3, 2021 in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo / Mark J. Terrill)
Lakers attacker Kyle Kuzma shoots while Denver Nuggets attacker Michael Porter Jr. defends and guards Alex Caruso watches during the first half of Monday at Staples Center. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

They were pawns in an international controversy and supporting actors in an unimaginable tragedy. Their life’s work was threatened by a pandemic, only to seize an unprecedented opportunity in the NBA’s self-built bubble.

And even as their superstars battled their injuries, the hope that everything would be fine once they got back continued to bolster them.

Through it all, they were remarkably stable, showing both physical and mental toughness at the championship level. But even champions have their limits.

Our team is a bit shocked now, Lakers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged Denver win before Monday 93-89.

It was a stunning confession from Vogel, the man who repeatedly said his team was good enough to win, even if LeBron James and Anthony Davis weren’t there, that the depth of the Lakers would take them through the choppy waters, guaranteed by play a compressed schedule during a game. pandemic.

Monday night at Staples Center, the frustrations didn’t take away from the Lakers fights, the team missed James and Dennis Schroder and still had a tough win, just their second since April 18.

The loss they endured was like a hot compress on an abscess that brought everything to the surface. After losing to the out-of-contention Toronto Raptors on Sunday and watching James leave the game after exacerbating the sprained ankle that took him a month, the Lakers players sounded.

Kyle Kuzma said he thought Vogel should consider playing Marc Gasol. Davis said the Lakers had lost their swagger and had to start acting like the defending champions. James said it didn’t matter if he wasn’t close to 100%.

Oh, and who came up with the entire play-in tournament? James thinks that person should be fired.

It all happened one day when Schroder entered the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. While the team did not disclose whether he tested positive, Schroder had told German media he was unsure about receiving the vaccine in mid-April.

On Monday, Vogel said Schroder would be out for 10 to 14 days, essentially scratching him for the rest of the regular season.

Vogel said many Lakers players and staff had access to the vaccine on April 16, right after it was made widely available in LA County.

We have certainly made our entire team aware of the benefits of vaccinating as many boys as possible. And how there are competitive advantages. There are just, for lack of a better word, lifestyle benefits of doing it. We can do more team-oriented things when we reach 85% [vaccination rate]. All that kind of thing. Less testing, Vogel said in a pre-game video conference. All those things were laid out very clearly for our boys and we showed them all the benefits. But in the end, as I said, it is their own personal choice and we respect that.

Lakers attacker Anthony Davis shoots while Denver Nuggets security guard PJ Dozier watches.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots as Denver Nuggets guard PJ Dozier watches during the first half on Monday at Staples Center. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

At the bottom of Schroder and James, the Lakers can’t even turn to Davis to take over completely, as the two players who can best get him the ball in the right place are on the shelf. For the second game in a row, Alex Caruso started in place of Schroders and became the point guard with James out.

But Caruso is best as a defensive scourge that can end in transition and certainly not appear on the perimeter as the main playmaker.

It won’t be perfect as long as James is rehabilitating his right ankle, and even if he can return, there’s hardly any guarantee that everything will be resolved. But without them, the Lakers need to bottle up as much of their energy from the Monday game as possible.

Maybe the vent worked. Against the hottest team in the Western Conference, the Lakers managed to play with a desperation and competitiveness they missed by losing to Sacramento and Toronto, turning the game into an ugly, defensive fight.

Neither team could get a divorce, with assets becoming increasingly important. When the Lakers forced the clock to halfway due to a fall in the middle of the lane, Caruso joined forces before partying with Vogel and the bank.

The Lakers eventually built a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter thanks to Gasol and Wesley Matthews, two veterans who had dropped from Vogels ‘rotation due to the Lakers’ cropped depth chart.

When they checked out things got shaky again, a 14-point lead faded to two.

Davis, after missing jumper after jumper in Denvers’ comeback, hit a float in the lane and Talen Horton-Tucker hit off a big second half with a putback to hold off the Nuggets, giving Davis the game-closing blocked shot. could ward off.

It was a massive lift that again helped the Lakers, if only for 48 minutes, to find stable ground.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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