Anthony Davis' game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets was a "Mamba shot", head coach Frank Vogel said.

Davis delivered an incredible buzzer-beating three to lift the Lakers to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday as they moved into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Vogel said the Lakers wanted to honour the late Kobe Bryant, the NBA great who died in a helicopter crash in January.

And the Lakers coach believes Davis' game-winner was the type of shot five-time NBA champion and former MVP Bryant would have produced.

"Well, we want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honour his memory," he told reporters.

"Obviously, there are certain games where we are going to feel it a little bit more than others. When we have that uniform on, I think we feel it more than others.

"That's a shot Kobe Bryant would hit. To me, AD coming off just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it's a Mamba shot."

While the Nuggets rallied in Game 2, Davis (31 points and nine rebounds) and LeBron James (26 points and 11 rebounds) led the Lakers to victory.

Vogel was full of praise for Davis and James as the Lakers close in on a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

"I keep saying, he [Davis] is a big-time player. He really carried us through a stretch where we were struggling to score late in the third," Vogel said.

"The combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just – if one of them is not going, the other one is. There was a little bit of that tonight.

"When they're both going at the same time, we're near impossible to stop. Those guys both carried each other throughout the game and obviously a big part of the win."

Game 3 between the Lakers and Nuggets is on Tuesday.

Anthony Davis said he wanted the "big-time plays" after delivering the game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets.

Davis hit an incredible buzzer-beating three as the Lakers edged the Nuggets 105-103 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

The star forward, who finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, said that was exactly why the Lakers recruited him in 2019.

"People talk about never being in this moment, pressure, am I ready for it? I want to take those shots," Davis told TNT.

"As part of a legacy I want those shots, I want the big-time plays."

He added: "This is what they brought me here for, make big-time plays."

The Nuggets, who trailed by 16 points in the third quarter, rallied before falling short at Walt Disney World Resort.

But Davis was full of praise for Denver, who became the first team in NBA history to come back from consecutive 3-1 series deficits to advance after stunning the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.

"That's a hell of a team. They're going to keep fighting, they fought all the way to the last shot," he said.

"We know that's what they're going to do. They're a team that's proven it this entire playoff series, their entire playoff run so hats off to them.

"But we want to come here and do what we want to do."

Game 3 is on Tuesday.

Anthony Davis nailed a buzzer-beating three-pointer as the Los Angeles Lakers stunned the Denver Nuggets 105-103 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Trailing 103-102, Davis hit a last-gasp three to break Denver's hearts and give the Lakers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA playoff series in Orlando, Florida on Sunday.

The third-seeded Nuggets, who became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason en route to the Conference finals, were seconds away from levelling the matchup at Walt Disney World Resort.

Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic made a 10-foot shot with 20.8 seconds remaining as Denver moved ahead by a point against top seeds the Lakers.

Jamal Murray also produced some elite defending for the Nuggets, blocking Danny Green's jumper as the clock dropped to 2.2 seconds.

But with no timeouts and time expiring, Davis stepped up in a clutch moment, receiving an inbound pass from Rajon Rondo and putting the Lakers in control of their first Conference finals since going on to win their last championship in 2010.

Davis finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, while team-mate LeBron James posted 26 points and 11 rebounds.

Jokic had 30 points and nine assists and Murray put up 25 points for the shocked Nuggets, who had fought back from as many as 16 points down.

 

Lakers face Nuggets

The Lakers and Nuggets are back at it again in Game 3 on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Lakers drew first blood against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals, winning 126-114 on Friday.

Led by double-doubles from Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the top-seeded Lakers claimed Game 1 of the NBA playoff series at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Davis posted 37 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes for the Lakers, while All-Star team-mate James had 15 points and 12 assists of his own.

The third-seeded Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason, having rallied past the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.

And they made a promising start, outscoring the Lakers 38-36 in the opening period but that is as good as it got for Jamal Murray's Nuggets.

The Lakers – back in the Conference finals for the first time since going on to win their last championship in 2010 – outscored the Nuggets 67-41 in the next two periods to move clear and take control of the contest behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Murray and Nikola Jokic, integral to Denver's first trip to the Conference finals since losing to the Lakers in 2009, both scored 21 points apiece.

Game 2 between the Lakers and Nuggets is on Sunday.

 

Celtics face Heat

The Boston Celtics will look to dig themselves out of a 0-2 hole when they meet the red-hot Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday.

LeBron James dismissed talk about the Los Angeles Clippers following their NBA playoff exit as the Los Angeles Lakers superstar marvelled at upcoming opponents the Denver Nuggets.

A blockbuster all-Los Angeles Western Conference final was quashed by the rallying Nuggets, who overturned a 3-1 series deficit against the second-seeded Clippers to set up a Lakers clash.

Asked about not playing Kawhi Leonard's Clippers for a place in the NBA Finals, three-time champion James told reporters on Thursday: "I don't have a comment about it really.

"I was just sitting back and watching the game from a fan's perspective, seeing big shots be made, big plays being made, missed shots, things of that nature. I was also [watching] as a scout, scouting both teams at the same time."

A follow-up question centred on the Lakers and Clippers settling their battle for supremacy in Los Angeles but James replied: "What were we settling?"

Lakers team-mate Anthony Davis added: "We aren't focused on any other team but the Lakers. That's kind of been us, our whole thing the entire season. We focused on our own team.

"Our focus isn't on the Clippers or the 'Battle of L.A.' It's more so what can we do to finish our season strong."

James and Davis were speaking on the eve of Game 1 between top seeds the Lakers and the Nuggets at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The Nuggets overpowered the shocked Clippers as they became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason, having rallied past the Utah Jazz.

Led by Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets will contest their first Conference final since losing to the Lakers in 2008-09.

"Very resilient, very confident, very driven, very well-coached team," James said as he lauded the third-seeded Nuggets.

"It takes a lot of energy, effort, a lot of desperation to be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit. They did it twice. So the respect level is out of this world for what we have for this ballclub. That's how we're going into this series: understanding what they're capable of, where they stand."

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both named in the All-NBA First Team on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The All-NBA selections were announced as the playoffs hot up in Orlando, although the Lakers duo were the only remaining members of the First Team.

James and Davis were joined by James Harden, whose Houston Rockets they beat in the second round, along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

MVP candidates James and Antetokounmpo were both unanimous votes.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and playoff nemesis Nikola Jokic headlined the Second Team. Jokic led the Nuggets past the Clippers on Tuesday to complete another remarkable series fightback.

Damian Lillard was also included after carrying the Portland Trail Blazers into the postseason, alongside veteran Chris Paul, who impressed following his trade from the Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pascal Siakam - disappointing in the playoffs for defending champions the Toronto Raptors - made up the selection.

Meanwhile, in the Third Team, the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler are both still alive as Eastern Conference Finals opponents.

Russell Westbrook, part of the Paul trade, got recognition, too, and was joined by Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons, the latter ending the season injured.

The Los Angeles Lakers cruised past the Houston Rockets 119-96 to advance to the Western Conference Finals on Saturday.

LeBron James (29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) led the way at the Walt Disney World Resort as the Lakers reached the conference finals for the first time since winning the title in 2010 thanks to a 4-1 series win.

James joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in history to record 250-plus points, 100-plus rebounds and 80-plus assists in the first 10 games of a playoffs.

Anthony Davis posted a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds in a Game 5 during which the Lakers never trailed.

A 35-20 first quarter set up the Lakers' win as they moved through to face either the Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets.

Rockets star James Harden managed 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but Russell Westbrook struggled.

Westbrook was four-of-13 from the field for just 10 points in 36 minutes.

 

Clippers face Nuggets

Leading the semi-final series 3-2, the Clippers can seal a meeting with the Lakers with a win over the Nuggets on Sunday.

Anthony Davis and LeBron James starred as the Los Angeles Lakers topped the Houston Rockets 110-100 for a commanding lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Davis posted a double-double and James finished one assist shy of a triple-double to help the top-seeded Lakers move 3-1 clear in the NBA playoffs.

All-Star Davis put up 29 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4 at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday, while James recorded 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

The Lakers led by as many as 23 points midway through the fourth quarter and looked on track for a blowout victory before the Rockets rallied.

Houston – who overcame a 3-1 deficit in the second round of the 2015 playoffs – put together a 18-2 run to close within 103-96 but the Lakers managed to hold in in Orlando, Florida.

Russell Westbrook led the Rockets with 25 points, and All-Star team-mate James Harden contributed 21 of his own.

Game 5 between the Lakers and Rockets is on Saturday.

 

Celtics face Raptors

It is a winner-takes-all showdown on Friday as the Boston Celtics and defending champions Toronto Raptors meet in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis inspired the Los Angeles Lakers to a 4-1 series victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs.

The NBA postseason resumed at Walt Disney World Resort on Saturday following a three-day strike amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice after the shooting of Jacob Blake – a black man – in Wisconsin.

James posted 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while Davis finished with 43 points in Saturday's 131-122 win in the Western Conference first round.

Davis and James became the first duo since the ABA-NBA merger to score 35-plus points on 70-plus percent shooting each in the same playoff game, per STATS.

The top-seeded Lakers will face either the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks advanced in the Eastern Conference thanks to their 118-104 victory over the Orlando Magic.

The Bucks, who triggered protests throughout professional sports in the United States on Wednesday, were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo in their return to the court.

Bucks star and reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 17 rebounds as the Miami Heat await in the next round.

 

Rockets soar as Harden stars

James Harden posted 31 points to lead the Rockets to a 114-80 rout of the Thunder and a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference. Fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook also returned from injury.

A Nikola Vucevic double-double of 22 points and 15 rebounds were not enough for the eliminated Magic.

In the absence of All-Star team-mate Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum put up 36 points, while Carmelo Anthony had 27 of his own.

 

Rough night for Gallinari and Thunder

Danilo Gallinari managed just one point in the Thunder's heavy loss. He was 0 of five from the field, while missing all three attempts from beyond the arc in 22 minutes. Thunder team-mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, meanwhile, only posted four points on six-of-eight shooting from the field, and 0 of four from three-point range.

In Orlando's defeat, Gary Clark played 24 minutes and was 0 of four from the field and 0 of three from beyond the arc. He made one of two free throws.

 

LeBron and Davies combine

The two All-Stars continue to flourish in pursuit of the ultimate goal – an NBA championship.

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 118-104 Orlando Magic
Houston Rockets 114-80 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Lakers 131-122 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Celtics face Raptors

The Eastern Conference second-round series between the Boston Celtics and defending champions the Toronto Raptors gets underway on Sunday.

Anthony Davis has eased fears about the severity of the back injury that forced him out of the Los Angeles Lakers' Game 4 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Lakers cruised to a 135-115 victory to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series on Monday, but they were without Davis for most of the second half due to back spasms.

The seven-time All-Star headed to the locker room early in the third quarter - when the Lakers had a huge 91-53 lead - and later watched the rest of the game while standing on the sidelines with an electric stimulation device wrapped around his back.

Davis, who had 18 points in his 18 minutes on the court, does not think it is a major issue, though, as Los Angeles look to seal the series win in Game 5 on Wednesday.

"Back is doing fine. I'll be fine," he told reporters after the game.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 30 points and 10 assists on an emotional night for the franchise, who were remembering the great Kobe Bryant on August 24.

Bryant, who wore the jersey numbers 8 and 24 during a decorated career with the Lakers, was killed in a helicopter crash in January, along with his daughter and seven other people.

James arrived at the game wearing a Bryant Lakers jersey and Davis revealed he has seen a different side to the four-time MVP since the postseason began.

"Obviously we've kicked it up a notch," Davis added.

"His level of focus is definitely increased and the entire team's level of focus has increased. He's very detailed about everything. He's in there with coaches for film sessions, he's talking to me during film sessions.

"He wants to win and I want to win and we know that it's going to take both of us to do it, and the entire team, so we're just continuing to find ways to get better, even after wins like this.

"There's always something we can be better at for Game 5. I'm pretty sure that he's going to have a list of things for me tomorrow and the entire team."

LeBron James immediately felt "good vibes" with Anthony Davis at the start of the season and the Los Angeles Lakers continue to reap the rewards.

After James endured a disappointing first year in LA and missed out on the 2018-19 playoffs, the Lakers agreed a blockbuster trade for New Orleans Pelicans superstar Davis.

They gave up Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks, but the Lakers have so far found good value in the deal.

Led by James and Davis, the team finished as the top seed in the West and have turned around their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers to lead 2-1.

Speaking after the pair combined for 67 points, 23 rebounds and 16 assists in a Game 3 victory, James said: "We definitely work well together.

"There were all these questions going into the season about whether myself and AD can work well together - I think we've shown that over the course of this season. We just try to work off one another."

Four-time MVP James revealed their close relationship was forged immediately after the trade went through as Davis travelled to LA.

"You know I'm big in energy and people. You always hear this term like 'good vibes', but I truly can sense it," James said. "It was very organic.

"There was nothing pushed or rushed or whatever the case may be, we just let it happen, let the relationship happen organically - and it's just grown over the course of this whole year.

"We're two guys who know who we are. We know who we are as human beings. We're not trying to be nobody else but our own identity, our own selves.

"And when you know yourself and when you're confident in what you do - both on and off the floor - and you know what you represent, then there's no ego. There's no ego.

"We want both of us to succeed, both on and off the floor. We want our families to be happy. We want each other to try to be as happy as possible.

"There's no ego, so when you're able to figure that out in life - who you are and what you stand for - then nothing else matters."

Asked why the pair get on so well, Davis replied with a laugh: "I don't know. It's kind of like we have no choice, to be honest.

"We're two guys who just like to have fun. We like to work. We like to win. But off the court, we've just kind of clicked.

"We're just two guys who like to have fun, two guys who are big kids and play Xbox and have game nights back in LA. Stuff like that is kind of unique."

LeBron James hailed Anthony Davis as a "unicorn" who can do things his other team-mates cannot as the Los Angeles Lakers tied up their playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Superstar James put up just 10 points on a rare off-night as the Lakers made it 1-1 in their first-round meeting at the NBA's bubble in Orlando.

Davis was in inspired form, though, contributing 31 points and 11 rebounds in the 111-88 victory, leading to big praise from James.

"I've had some great team-mates in my career," James said.

"AD is one of those unicorns [a term in basketball to describe a player who is versatile and dynamic] and he does things what some of my other great team-mates are not capable of doing.

"Tonight, AD was magnificent."

Davis scored 28 points in the opening-game defeat but said he did not feel as though he performed to his best level.

A few choice words from James, a three-time NBA champion, encouraged Davis to see the bigger picture, though.

"I was really down on myself after Game 1," Davis said. "I didn't feel like I performed to the level I needed to. And he let me have my moment and kind of get on myself, and then he talked to me and said I was fine.

"He said it's one game, and as a guy who's won multiple championships and been in these situations before, he knows what to expect. He knew what to expect from his team-mates and he kind of just was there for me to kind of encourage me and keep me level-headed. Because it was just one game.

"Our relationship has been great the entire season. I've kind of just been leaning on him this entire season, just trying to figure out the tricks [of the] trade of playing with a guy like him and a team like this.

"He kind of has been there for me and supporting me and kind of guiding me through this entire process."

The win was the Lakers' first in a playoff game since May 18, 2012, and James says a tough season off the court has proven the mettle of the team.

James said: "I mean, it started from training camp, to preseason, traveling abroad, to entering the New Year, the tragic death obviously of Kobe [Bryant] and those victims on that helicopter, to the stop of the season, to players getting injured, [Rajon] Rondo going down for a big piece of the year, to the restart, not having our brother Avery Bradley here.

"And so on and so on. I don't even know, it just feels like it's been three or four different seasons [in one], so I know what we're capable of, I know how we're built."

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is wary of NBA playoff opponents the Portland Trail Blazers as they boast the hottest player in the league in star Damian Lillard.

The top-seeded Lakers will face eighth seed the Trail Blazers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, starting Tuesday in Orlando.

Portland secured a date against LeBron James and the Lakers thanks to Saturday's play-in victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with Lillard instrumental in the Trail Blazers' remarkable run to the postseason.

Lillard leads the NBA in scoring at Walt Disney World Resort since the restart with 37.6 points per game, including the play-in clash. He is also averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.

As the Lakers prepare to make their first playoff appearance since 2013, Vogel – in his maiden season with the storied franchise – praised Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

"Definitely not your typical eighth seed," Vogel said in a videoconference call on Sunday. "They've played at an elite level during this stretch in the bubble, at least offensively.

"And we've got a ton of respect for obviously Dame and CJ [McCollum] and [Jusuf] Nurkic, but really for their whole team and their whole culture. They've got a system that's been together for a number of years.

"They have the continuity piece, [Western] Conference Finals last year, so just a ton of respect for what they're bringing to the table."

Lakers star Anthony Davis also hailed Lillard, adding: "He's balling right now. He’s hot. He's doing whatever he's doing, whatever he can do to make his team win. He's carrying the load. Playing a ton of minutes.

"And so he's the head of the snake for their team. You gotta do your best to contain him and take away some of his tendencies. But they also have other guys who make plays as well.

"So they're a tough opponent, but everybody knows what level he's on and his mindset. And he's gonna go out there and do what he can to help his team win."

Meanwhile, Vogel said Rajon Rondo will clear quarantine on Monday, though there is no timetable for the Lakers guard's return.

Rondo has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb, forced to leave the Orlando bubble prior to the season resuming amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm not sure exactly when he's going to be available to be in uniform," Vogel said. "We'll get him on the court and see where he's at. But no specific timetable yet on him."

The NBA bubble has already produced plenty of storylines and the playoffs have not even started yet.  

The coronavirus pandemic forced the league to think outside the box, leading to games being played within a bio-secure one. Through careful planning and at great expense, a plan was drawn up to take the show on the road to Orlando, Florida. 

Walt Disney World is used to delivering entertainment; the resumption of the basketball season has not disappointed on that front, aided by a revised structure that offered several teams renewed hope. 

Amid great uncertainty during a global health crisis, the players and teams bought into the proposal to deliver sporting drama to an eager audience watching on from afar. 

Scoring climbed upon the resumption – the average rose by 4.3 points per game per team – while the absence of the bottom feeders, those teams too far back to contend and already focused on the next campaign and beyond, led to a slight rise in the number of close contests.  

"It's better than what we had envisioned," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "Players have taken to it in a more spirited way than we thought they would.   

"We knew that this would require enormous sacrifice on everyone's part, but I think that what is hard to calibrate - and this maybe goes to my experience when I first came into the arena - is the human emotion that comes with being around other people. And I think everyone realised they missed it more than they even understood." 

Now the initial 22-team field is down to 16, the Portland Trail Blazers confirmed in the final playoff spot after coming through a play-in tournament, one of several changes put in place due to a shortened regular season.  

The top seeds will be the focus moving forward now, but others have claimed the spotlight during the action seen so far.

RED-HOT SUNS CATCH FIRE 

The Phoenix Suns are done for the campaign despite winning all eight seeding games, another new concept from the NBA that condensed the race to qualify in both conferences.  

They were always a long shot to make it, but that did not stop Monty Williams' roster from giving it their all to make up the gap. They ended up making unwanted history, becoming the first team to finish the season on a winning streak of eight or more games and still not make the playoffs. 

Phoenix's eight straight wins all came while scoring 110 or more points in every game, matching the longest such streak in franchise history (having also done so between November 23 and December 9 way back in 1971).  

Their average points per game increased from 112.6 to 122.3, while they were successful with 40.2 per cent of their attempts from deep. The Suns were also outstanding from the free throw line, shooting 90 per cent, not to mention on social media.

Devin Booker was a major reason for the sudden hot streak. The guard averaged 30.5 points in Florida and provided one of the more memorable moments during the seeding games, hitting a buzzer-beating game-winner to down the Los Angeles Clippers.  

Booker had 20 or more points in every outing and while they missed out on the playoffs for a 10th straight season, Phoenix's form in the sunshine state provides renewed hope for the future. 

"I just think that we have a group that wanted to come here and wanted to prove to the world that they were worthy of being here," Williams said. They certainly did that.

LILLARD BLAZES A TRAIL 

The Suns only narrowly missed out on a play-in place to the Memphis Grizzlies, who owned the tie-breaker between the pair after both finished with identical 34-39 records in a competitive Western Conference.  

Memphis had arrived in Orlando sitting in eighth but dropped down a spot due to the form of the Trail Blazers, who piggybacked Damian Lillard's hot hand to go 6-2 following the restart.  

Lillard was unsurprisingly named bubble MVP, as he finished top for points, averaging an outstanding 37.6 a game, and three-pointers, hitting 44 to finish 10 ahead of team-mate Gary Trent Jr.   

The point guard had 154 points in a three-game run at one stage, just shy of the 158 he managed during a similar span back in January. His tally of 71 successful free throws, meanwhile, put him behind only James Harden (73).  

But it was not just about the scoring for Lillard, who also averaged 9.6 assists per outing for a Blazers roster who will hope to continue their fine form when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs.  

To put Lillard's performances into context, the five-time NBA All-Star is the only player since the league merger to have 150-plus points, as well as 25 or more assists, in a three-game spell – and he has done it twice this season.  

If his feats on the court were not enough, the 30-year-old has also found the time to drop three tracks on a new EP titled "Live From The Bubble". Both on and off the court, Lillard has capitalised on the opportunities presented to him during this unique campaign, one that is far from over for him and his team just yet. 

The playoffs will be different, of course. They always are. The Lakers will focus on stopping Portland's top scoring option, but without Lillard's recent efforts the Trail Blazers would surely have missed out on even getting a shot at causing an upset in the opening round.

SEEDS OF CONCERN FOR LAKERS?

And what of the Lakers, the top seeds in the West who are preparing for a first playoff appearance since 2013?  

They always had a long-term goal in mind, knowing the seeding games allowed key personnel to get enough minutes to be primed for bigger challenges ahead while still having plenty left in the tank.  

Coach Frank Vogel has also experimented with rotations with one eye on the not-too-distant future, so it is understandable that the overall numbers have dropped of late.  

Still, the Lakers ranked first in field goal percentage and fourth for effective field goal percentage when the season was halted in March -they were 19th and 21st in those respective categories in Florida.  

Indeed, the statistics where they saw numbers increase while going 3-5 was in turnovers and opposition scoring, which jumped to 113.4 points per game (instead of 106.9 earlier in the campaign).  

LeBron James and Anthony Davis also dipped in terms of production, the latter averaging 21.6 points, way down from his previous number of 26.7, in seven outings. 

The drop in output should not raise too many alarms, particularly with both stars in the conversation to be crowned overall MVP.  

Yet the Lakers will understand the unprecedented circumstances have altered the outlook for all teams still standing, particularly as home advantage no longer exists within the bubble. 

The seedings run was fun - now it is time to get serious. Those still alive will fight it out to discover who will be crowned champions at the end of a season that will never be forgotten.

LeBron James outlined the importance of Kyle Kuzma to the Los Angeles Lakers in their bid to be crowned NBA champions this year. 

Despite James and Anthony Davis being on the floor, Kuzma was the hero for the Lakers on Monday, hitting a three-pointer inside the final second that clinched a 124-121 win over the Denver Nuggets. 

Kuzma finished with 25 points and said after his game-winner: "Jesus could be in front of me and I'd probably still shoot".

Such confidence could be crucial in the coming weeks, with James making clear how the Lakers will need more than just himself and Davis to prevail in the playoffs.

"In order for us to win a championship, he [Kuzma] has to be our third best player," James told the media.

"If I'm struggling or AD is struggling, he has to be our second best player on any given night.  

"We can't win a championship if 'Kuz' doesn't play well."

The Lakers have already wrapped up the number one seed in the Western Conference, yet James insisted there is still work to do in the Orlando bubble to be ready for what is to come.

Asked during his post-game media call where, on a scale of one to 10, he ranked the Lakers in terms of being playoff ready, he replied: "I don't know, I don't think we're a 10. We shouldn't be a 10, because there is different type of preparation that goes into a playoff game.  

"You spend hours and hours on teams, because you know you're going to be locked into them for at least four games. 

"During the regular season, or throughout these eight games, you really only have a day, sometimes not even a full day, to lock in on a team and start preparing for the next one. 

"For me personally, as far as mentally, I don't feel like I'm in playoff mode. Physically, I'm getting there. I feel like I'm getting better and better, my game has improved and I'm getting more and more comfortable with the bubble. 

"As far as the mental side of it, I don't think I'm there and I'm not sure our team is – but we will be.

"It's a different type of mindset you have to be in, but you don't want to jump into it before you're actually there."

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