“I could tell they were locked in pregame. LeBron had his jersey with like 80 minutes to go before the game,” guard Alex Caruso said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 120-116 overtime triumph in Denver on Wednesday night.
James posted his 12th triple-double of the season, tied with Luka Doncic for the NBA lead, and Davis scored seven of his 33 points in overtime as the Western Conference leaders took a 41-12 record and a four-game lead over second-place Denver into the All-Star break.
“I was trying to be laser sharp, laser focused as I could,” James said. “I know the break was coming, but I wasn’t going to take this opportunity for granted. I wanted to play extremely well tonight for our ballclub and I wanted us to play extremely well going into the break on a high note. And our team, we responded very well.”
The Nuggets were the hottest team in the league, having won six of seven, including short-handed stunners at Milwaukee and Utah.
So, James, who had 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds, saw this as playoff prep.
“Every opportunity we get to play in a close game against a tough opponent, it’s a learning experience for all of us,” he said. “It prepares us for a postseason game where it’s going to be back and forth, back and forth. I thought tonight was a playoff atmosphere for both teams, being No. 1 and No. 2 in the Western Conference, jockeying for position. We were just trying to make plays whatever it takes. And A.D. was there knocking down big 3s and getting a block and getting some stops, the jump ball, as well. It was big time.”
In addition to his 33 points, Davis tied up All-Star Nikola Jokic for a key jump ball late in regulation when the officials had to waive off the basket by Denver’s big man after he muscled the ball away from Davis and into the basket.
Jokic has 22 points and 11 rebounds for Denver, which saw its four-game winning streak snapped.
Dwight Howard added 14 points for the Lakers, who improved their NBA-best road record to 23-5.
Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 33 points, but Jokic was in foul trouble late and made some crucial blunders in the extra period, including a turnover on a bad pass with 19 seconds left after he passed up an open 3-pointer with Denver down 119-116.
The back-and-forth game went to overtime tied at 111 when James’ fadeaway 15-footer hit the iron and bounced away at the buzzer.
Gary Harris’ 3-pointer tied it at 116 with 3:06 remaining in overtime, but the Nuggets suddenly went cold, especially Jokic, who missed three shots and bypassed a wide-open 3 with 20 seconds left and the Nuggets down 119-116. He followed with a bad pass right into the arms of Kentavious Cadlwell-Pope.
“It was a close game. We just didn’t execute in the last minutes,” Jokic said. “I made a lot of terrible mistakes. Every decision was bad. So, I need to be better with my decision-making. I think I just need to look to shoot a little bit more.”