LeBron James believes he would have become one of the all-time NBA greats regardless of his spell with the Miami Heat.

James spent four years with the Heat between 2010 and 2014.

During that time, he became a two-time NBA champion, two-time league MVP and two-time Finals MVP.

The 38-year-old credits his time in Miami with introducing him to a new culture, but he feels he would have been the same player regardless.

"I think I would still be at this level no matter if I would've came here or not," James told ESPN ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers' clash with the Heat on Monday.

"Let's not get it twisted. The four years I was here, it was amazing. I loved everything about it. Loved this franchise, this franchise is top tier, it's one of the best franchises in the world.

"But as far as my career, my career was going to be my career as far as individually, because I know how much I put into the game and I know how much I strived to be as great as I can be. [But] as far as what I was able to learn here was second to none, that's for sure.

"I came here for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win championships. That was my only goal. That was the only reason I teamed up with [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh.

"Because I felt like I couldn't do it in Cleveland. So I had an opportunity to be a free agent so I did what I thought was best, not only for my career but for me at that point in time."

So, what did James learn in south Florida?

"It was a culture change for me," James said. "People talk about 'Heat Culture'. It was a culture change, period.

"I was changing everything about my life for the first time in my life. To be able to be here and be able to learn and be alongside D-Wade, UD [Udonis Haslem] and Spo [Erik Spoelstra], those guys who had won it already, it definitely was great to be a part of, for sure."

James scored a game-high 30 points on Monday against the Heat, but he could not guide the Lakers to victory, with Bam Adebayo's triple-double and Jimmy Butler's 28 helping Miami win 108-107.

LeBron James urged the Los Angeles Lakers to improve as his injury-hit side were blasted away by the Orlando Magic, who were inspired by Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero.

The Lakers' seven-game winning streak against the Magic came to an abrupt end as Los Angeles were outclassed in a 120-101 road defeat on Saturday.

Wagner led the Orlando charge with 26 points, one more than the impressive Banchero, while rookie Anthony Black scored 10 on his first Magic start.

Hosts Orlando were without injured guards Markelle Fultz (knee) and Gary Harris (groin), yet it was Los Angeles' James who bemoaned fitness issues hampering his team.

"That's definitely been our trend – offensive rebounds and points off turnovers," said James, who finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

"We'll do a good job of getting a stop and then an offensive rebound allows them to score.

"It definitely helps when you have bigger bodies. We have three of our bigger bodies out right now with injuries.

"It would help, but that's definitely one of the ways we have to look at to get better."

Anthony Davis was a rare bright spark, managing 28 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks for the Lakers, who were without five injured players for the road game.

Los Angeles played without Rui Hachimura (concussion protocol), Taurean Prince (knee), Gabe Vincent (knee), Jalen Hood-Schifino (knee) and Jarred Vanderbilt (knee).

However, injuries were no excuse for Los Angeles coach Darvin Ham.

"They're down bodies, we're down bodies and so the game basically comes down to mental approach," added Ham. "Their energy, their effort, they outworked us."

Just five days after a 106-103 reverse in Los Angeles, Banchero suggested the victory shows his Magic side can compete with any side in NBA.

"We don't look at any other team and think we can't match up," said last season's NBA Rookie of the Year Banchero, who went on to laud the performance of Black.

"Plus-32 for my dawg right here. Plus-32 is nuts. He just stepped up right away."

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley echoed Banchero's sentiment on Black, adding: "He wasn't afraid. He embraces moments, and he's willing to make the easy play, the easy pass and the right decision."

LeBron James and D'Angelo Russell feel the Los Angeles Lakers are "figuring it out" after they battled to a win over the Orlando Magic.

The Lakers improved to 2-2 with a 106-103 home win over the Magic on Monday, a night after they had suffered a gruelling overtime defeat on the road against the Sacramento Kings.

Coach Darvin Ham had considered resting James for the second half of their back-to-back, but he played for another 33 minutes despite ankle soreness, contributing 19 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.

Anthony Davis impressed again with 26 points and 19 rebounds, while Russell scored 12 of his 28 points in the final 12 minutes to see off a determined Magic (1-2) team.

"What you guys see is a team figuring it out," Russell, who also had eight assists, said after the game, per ESPN. 

"This isn’t the product that it will be in a month or two from now. 

"Every game matters. Every clutch situation matters. Every practice matters. So we are figuring it out."

LeBron was similarly optimistic after the Lakers moved to 2-0 at home, with a big game against city rivals the Clippers – who are bringing in James Harden – up next.

"We’re going to continue to get better," said the 38-year-old. "I think we’re still a little trying to figure it out, which is OK. 

"We’re four games in. We’re going to get a lot better throughout the season, but so far we like some of the things we see."

Davis was impressed to see the Lakers pull out the win even with tired legs after their loss to the Kings.

"It just shows a resiliency that we have as a team, but also knowing that if we get in those situations, we know what to do," Davis said. 

"Guys are not rushing shots or making bad plays. Just doing what we need to do for our teammates."

Gary Harris Jr. scored 17 points and hit all five of his 3-point attempts for the Magic, who will have the chance to gain revenge when these two teams play each other again in Orlando on Saturday.

Elsewhere in the NBA, Kings guard De'Aaron Fox – who impressed with 37 points against the Lakers – has been ruled out of Wednesday night's game at the Golden State Warriors with an ankle sprain.

And Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo was forced to miss his team’s 122-114 defeat at the Milwaukee Bucks due to a bruised hip.

The Milwaukee Bucks will be "tough to stop" in the Eastern Conference race this season after pairing star point guard Damian Lillard with two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That's according to former Buck Michael Carter-Williams, who believes the Boston Celtics may emerge as Milwaukee's closest rivals after picking up Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.

After 11 years with the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard joined the Bucks in a huge three-team trade in the offseason.

He made an immediate impact as Milwaukee began their 2023-24 campaign with a 118-117 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Lillard finished with a record-breaking 39 points on his Bucks debut, surpassing Terry Cummings' 34 points on his first outing for the team back in 1984, while Antetokounmpo added 23 points and 13 rebounds.

With those two stars linking up, free agent Carter-Williams – who represented Milwaukee between 2015 and 2016 – expects his former team to enjoy an exciting season.

"They're both amazing players. The things that they do on the court are tough to stop," Carter-Williams – who will play in the G League in Mexico City as he awaits an NBA offer – told Stats Perform.

"You put those two together, it's a tough combination, and they're immediately one of the best combos in the league. 

"It's going to be interesting to see what they can do and like I said, they're both huge talents so they're going to be tough to stop."

Carter-Williams was surprised to see Lillard land in Milwaukee, but he says the team had to do everything possible to secure him in the huge trade. 

"I was shocked," he said. "I didn't see that coming, I thought it was going to be Miami or Toronto, or there was one other team in the mix.

"I didn't see him going into Milwaukee, but the trade made sense. Obviously, it's tough to give up Drew [Timme] but when you're getting a guy like Damian, I think anybody besides Giannis is liable to get traded."

After Antetokounmpo was taken by the Bucks as the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, Carter-Williams had the chance to play alongside him during his formative years. 

Reflecting on his time as a team-mate of Antetokounmpo, Carter-Williams said: "It was great, especially seeing him play early on in his career and watching his development.

"Every day, you could see him slowly getting better and better and just to watch his work ethic… he's an unbelievable person. 

"He's a better person than he is a basketball player and I think that's what makes him unique. 

"Watching him play has been great, as a friend, as a fan, as a team-mate, it's been awesome to see."

Milwaukee's offseason moves have seen them touted to improve on 2022-23, when they topped the East but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.

Boston also went down to Miami in the playoffs after finishing second in the East, and they have subsequently strengthened by adding former Bucks guard Holiday and Porzingis from the Washington Wizards.

Carter-Williams expect last season's top two to battle for supremacy in the Eastern Conference again, saying: "I like the Bucks and the Celtics in the East. 

"The Celtics getting Porzingis and Jrue are two huge pickups for them. I like them coming out of the East, in the West, we'll see how things shake up. 

"I think if Anthony Davis and LeBron [James] can be healthy, I think they [the Los Angeles Lakers] are a tough team, they have built a nice little roster over there.

"Then there's Denver, who you can't count out, they got [Nikola] Jokic and they just won it so I think those two are at the top in the West."

The Celtics moved to 2-0 for the season by beating Miami 119-111 on Friday, with Holiday and Porzingis finishing with 17 points apiece. 

LeBron James said it was an "easy" decision to play beyond a planned limit to his gametime after helping the Los Angeles Lakers to Thursday's come-from-behind victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers had planned to limit James' time on court to around 30 minutes per game in the early stages of the season, with the NBA's all-time leading scorer having missed a total of 111 games since joining the team in 2018, most of them through injury. 

James played just 29 minutes – well below his 2022-23 average of 35.5 per game – as the Lakers began the new season with a 119-107 defeat against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.

Head coach Darvin Ham suggested that would become the norm, but with the Lakers trailing the Suns by 12 points going into the fourth quarter, he was forced to rethink that plan.

Following a conversation with Ham, the four-time NBA champion played the entire fourth quarter and led the Lakers to a 100-95 victory, ensuring they avoided a 0-2 start to 2023-24.

James ended the game with 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 35 minutes, and he had no hesitation in staying out there to get Los Angeles back in the contest. 

"He [Ham] asked me if I could go the [whole] quarter, and I looked at the time and the score and what was going on in the game, and it was an easy answer for myself," James said after the win.

"I know how much work I've put in to be able to play quarters or whatever the case may be.

"I understand that we definitely have a system in place, but tonight called for me to go outside the box."

The Lakers outscored Kevin Durant's Suns 28-11 in the fourth, with James racking up 10 points alone, vindicating Ham's decision to leave the 38-year-old on the floor.

"We were dragging our feet there for the better part of the first half, and things weren't clicking," Ham said. "He [James] has that spirit, that intensity to put the team on his shoulders. 

"I had timeouts to play with, so I went to him, I said, 'How we feeling? What do we want to do?' 

"He answered my question and you guys saw the results. So we used a couple of our timeouts to get him some breathers."

James' team-mate Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 30 points after going scoreless through the second half against Denver last time out. 

That performance led to Davis receiving fierce criticism from some quarters, but James made it clear that Los Angeles were not affected by the noise surrounding the eight-time All-Star.

"We don't give a s*** about criticism of AD," James said. "We don't care. Nothing bothers us. AD doesn't care. I don't know if guys have figured that out. 

"AD does not care. He's not on social media, so he doesn't see none of it. He rarely talks, unless it's to us, so we don't give a s*** about it, and he definitely doesn't. 

"He just goes out and does his job, and we're happy to have AD."

LeBron James may have lost some explosiveness due to his injury struggles, but Andre Drummond believes the NBA's all-time leading scorer is as good as ever and can excel again this season.

James and the Los Angeles Lakers began their 2023-24 campaign with a defeat on Tuesday, with the Denver Nuggets opening their first-ever NBA title defence with a 119-107 win.

The four-time NBA MVP scored a team-high 21 points while shooting 10-of-16, also adding five assists and eight rebounds, but his limited time on court was the major talking point after the game.

James played just 29 minutes in Los Angeles' 2023-24 opener, with the team looking to manage his workload over the coming weeks after he missed 27 games with a foot injury last season.

With James into his 21st season in the league, Drummond – who played alongside the 38-year-old during a brief spell with the Lakers in 2021 – says his game may have changed, but not necessarily for the worse.

Asked what fans should expect from James this season, Drummond told Stats Perform: "Well, if he's anything like he's been the past couple of years, I guess the same thing.

"He's still averaging 25 points, still playing 30-plus minutes, and it looks like he hasn't slowed down. Well, I feel like he's lost a step, but he's still him, he's still him at the end of the day. 

"He's still the same player, he's still able to be aggressive and get to the basket. 

"Is he dunking over people all the time as he used to? No. But is he playing smarter now? Yeah, I think he's still just as good.

"LeBron James has been special for the NBA from the first day he came in, the amount of things that he's done for the community, not only just for basketball, but for his community and for every city he's been in… you have to respect the guy that does that."

Reflecting on his time as a team-mate of LeBron's, Drummond said the opportunity to see how the four-time NBA Champion prepared for games was invaluable.

"He's somebody I got a chance to play alongside, so to have that opportunity to see his greatness up close is something I didn't take for granted," Drummond said.

"It puts a lot in perspective, because when you see this guy do the things he does in games, you're like, 'I wonder what he does when he's not playing'. 

"I always talk about preparation with guys and his preparation, what he does and how he takes care of his body, how hard he works each and every day, really shows why he's one of the best players to step on this court.

"I just have a lot of respect for him. It was an honour for me to be alongside him and see him be him. I wish we got more time together, but it was definitely excellent playing alongside him.

"I asked him what he does with his body because I'm in year 12 now, and obviously your body starts to break down, you start feeling it more when you get hurt, it lasts a little bit longer. 

"I've been blessed to not be hurt severely. I've had bumps and bruises but nothing crazy. 

"I definitely asked him what he does when he's not playing, how he takes care of his body and some of the things he does to keep himself engaged when he's not on the court."

James is the oldest player in the NBA. The Lakers star will now have his eye on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record for the highest scoring average managed by the league's oldest player in any season (23.4 points in 1985-86, when Abdul-Jabbar turned 39).

While 30-year-old center Drummond clearly respects James' longevity, he will only continue his own career for as long as he feels able to make a valuable contribution.

"Playing as long as I have now is a blessing," Drummond added.

"I feel like I'm going to play as long as I can, until I just feel like I don't need to anymore, or I'm not as serviceable. 

"I don't want to be someone that isn't playing, I have a family that I would rather hang out with than sit on the bench. I'll play until I'm not playing any more, or I'm not being played any more."

LeBron James understands the Los Angeles Lakers' plan to manage his time on court in the coming weeks, with head coach Darvin Ham hoping it gets the best out of the four-time NBA MVP.

James played just 29 minutes as the Lakers opened their 2023-24 campaign with a 119-107 defeat to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, with Nikola Jokic recording his 106th career triple-double for the reigning NBA champions.

Four-time NBA champion James added five assists to his team-high 21 points, but he saw his gametime limited despite the Lakers remaining competitive until late on, cutting Denver's lead to three points in the fourth quarter.

The 38-year-old averaged 35.5 minutes per game last season, his second-highest figure in five years with the Lakers, though that appeared to take its toll as he missed 27 games with a right foot injury.

James has missed a total of 111 games since joining the Lakers in 2018, most of them due to injury. While the NBA's all-time leading scorer always wants to be involved, he understands the benefits of managing his workload.

"Listen, I always want to be on the floor, especially when you've got an opportunity to win a game or you feel like you can make an impact," James said after Tuesday's defeat.

"But this is the system in place, and I'm going to follow it."

Asked whether he was surprised by his limited time on court, James clarified: "No, I'm not surprised. I talked to the coach and we had a game plan going into Game 1. I'm not surprised or upset."

With James approaching his 39th birthday and the likes of Anthony Davis, D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura providing the Lakers with depth, coach Ham says fans should expect more of the game.

"It's easy with him to get caught up in the emotion of the game, and you tend to forget you want to play these long stretches," Ham said of James.

"But in order for him to be as effective as possible, we have to be mindful of the minute output and how long his stretches are.

"It's going to be a day-by-day process, gauging how he's feeling, getting communication from him, our training staff, our medical staff."

Despite the defeat, James was satisfied with aspects of his own performance and does not believe he needs to adjust his game to the new role.

"Besides the fact that we didn't win, I think my performance and what I did individually in the time that I was out there… I think I was productive," James said.

"I mean, I was a plus-7 for the game. No turnovers. I like the no turnovers more than anything."

The Lakers are back in action on Thursday, with the Phoenix Suns visiting Crypto.com Arena.

The NBA champion Denver Nuggets picked up right where they left off, opening their 2023-24 season with a dominant 119-107 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Just as he did in Denver’s Finals series victory against the Miami Heat, Nikola Jokic was at his brilliant best for the home team, orchestrating the Nuggets’ performance behind a 29-point triple-double.

Denver exploded out of the gates to open a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter, before LeBron James helped the Lakers claw their way back to within 10 by half-time.

However, the Lakers struggled to compete with James off the floor, Denver ultimately coasting to a 12-point win.

Jokic added 13 rebounds and 11 assists to his game-high points total, while James top-scored for Los Angeles with 21, despite only playing 29 minutes.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was successful in his first trip back to Golden State since leaving the team in 2019, helping the Phoenix Suns defeat the Warriors 108-104.

Both teams traded massive momentum swings and substantial leads throughout the game before the Warriors nabbed a slight advantage as the clock ticked into the final five minutes.

But Devin Booker was able to reclaim the lead for Phoenix with a go-ahead layup and later sunk a crucial three to get the Suns over the line.

He finished with 32 points, while Durant contributed 18.

Steph Curry top-scored for Golden State with 27, while former Sun Chris Paul finished with 14 points, six rebounds and nine assists in his Warriors debut.

Nikola Jokic opened his season with another triple-double and Jamal Murray scored 21 points as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 119-107 on Tuesday after raising their NBA championship banner.

Jokic had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for his 106th career triple-double, which trails only Russell Westbrook (198), LeBron James (107) and Jason Kidd (107) on the career list.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 20 points, Aaron Gordon added 15 and Michael Porter Jr. contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds for Denver, which went 16-4 in the playoffs last season, including a sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

All of Los Angeles’ starters scored in double figures, led by James’ 21 points in 29 minutes as his playing time was being monitored at the start of his 21st season.

Denver led by as many as 18 points, but the Lakers whittled the lead down to three on James’ 3-pointer with 9:42 remaining.

James’ basket got Los Angeles within 103-96 with just over five minutes to play, but the Nuggets responded with a 10-3 run featuring 3s by Murray and Porter.

Booker sparks Suns past Warriors

Devin Booker scored 32 points and the Phoenix Suns got past the Golden State Warriors 108-104 in Kevin Durant’s return to the Bay Area in a back-and-forth season opener for the Pacific Division powerhouses.

Booker shot 13 of 21 and had eight assists and six rebounds, while Jusuf Nurkic added 14 points and 14 boards – including a key driving layup in the closing seconds - in his Suns debut.

Josh Okogie sank a baseline jumper with 69 seconds left, and Eric Gordon drained a 3-pointer with 45 seconds to play before Stephen Curry’s 3 drew Golden State within 106-104 with 31 seconds to go.

Nurkic’s layup made it a four-point game and Paul’s missed 3 ended the Warriors’ hopes.

Durant scored 18 points on 7-of-22 shooting with 10 rebounds in his first game in front of Bay Area fans since leaving the Warriors after the 2019 NBA Finals.

Curry had 27 points and Chris Paul had 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his Warriors debut facing his most recent team.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham wants to see six three-point attempts per game from Anthony Davis this season.

The Lakers reached the Western Conference finals last season, only to be swept 4-0 by the Denver Nuggets.

Davis averaged 1.3 three-point attempts per game last season, with his career-high (3.5) coming in his first year with the Lakers in 2019-20.

And Ham now wants to see Davis – who has gone three-for-six on three-pointers in preseason – stack up numbers that compare to the likes of Devin Booker and Darius Garland, who averaged 6.0 attempts per game in 2022-23.

"I want him to. I know he won't do it, but maybe he'll shock me, but I've requested to see six three-point attempts a game," Ham said.

"Three per half, at least. I wouldn't put that on him if I didn't think he was capable."

Ham has no plans to discourage Davis from shooting from beyond the arc.

"That's something that he's worked on, being a more consistent shooter and not just more consistent in his [normal] areas but consistent from deep range," he added.

"And not hesitating. Not overthinking it. So if he's got a good look, we've all encouraged him to put it up."

The Lakers, who face the Sacramento Kings in their third preseason game on Wednesday, tip off the new season on the road against the Nuggets on October 24.

LeBron James announced on The ESPYs on Wednesday that he will play another season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

James, 38, said he will return for his 21st NBA season and sixth with the Lakers after accepting the ESPY award for Best Record-Breaking Performance for surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the NBA’s all-time scoring list last season.

“I don’t care how many more points I can score or what I can or can’t do on the floor,” James said. “The real question for me, can I play without cheating the game? The day I can’t play without giving everything on the floor is the day I’ll be done. Lucky for you guys, that day is not today.”

At the end of last season following the Lakers’ loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals, James said he wasn’t sure if he would be back.

That was in stark contrast to James’ previous sentiments, when he said on several occasions that he would like to play alongside his oldest son, Bronny, in the NBA.

The superstar James had another stellar season in 2022-23, averaging 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 55 games.

Nikola Jokic remains "worried" about the Denver Nuggets' chances of reaching the NBA Finals despite Saturday's Game 3 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, warning LeBron James is "capable of everything".

Jokic combined with Jamal Murray to guide the top-seeded Nuggets to a 119-108 win at Crypto.com Arena, giving them a 3-0 series lead and putting them on the brink of a first NBA Finals appearance.

The two-time NBA MVP added 24 points to Murray's game-high 37, leaving Denver heavily fancied to advance ahead of another road game on Monday.

However, Jokic is unwilling to start the celebrations early, saying: "To be honest, I'm not going to say that I'm scared, but I'm worried.

"Because they have LeBron on the other side, and he is capable of doing everything. 

"We're going to come here with the same mindset, same focus, and I think that's going to put us in a situation to win a game.

"We never know. They're going to be aggressive. Of course, they're going to be extra physical. 

"They're going to run more, everything is going to be on a different level, more of anything. So, we will see."

Murray echoed his team-mate's cautious tone, stressing the importance of the Nuggets remaining grounded. 

"We're just keeping everybody in the moment, not letting it slip away," Murray said.

"You need 16 wins to win a championship and we've got five more to go and the Lakers are in our way, and they are going to do everything in their power to come back and fight."

James finished Game 3 with 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds but missed with 11 of his 19 shots, including four of six in the fourth quarter.

Despite the Lakers' season hanging by a thread, the four-time NBA champion is refusing to give up hope.

"We've got to get one, just get one at a time," James said. "Just focus on Game 4, that's all you can think about. 

"Obviously, this game is over with. We had some opportunities and we didn't come through. It's a one-game series for us."

Jamal Murray dominated the first half and Nikola Jokic came alive in the fourth quarter as the Denver Nuggets moved within one win of a sweep with a 119-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

Murray scored 30 of his 37 points in the first half and Jokic shook off a slow start with 15 of his 24 in the fourth quarter to give Denver a 3-0 lead in the series.

The top-seeded Nuggets can complete the sweep in Game 4 on Monday and secure the franchise's first-ever NBA Finals appearance.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 17 points, Bruce Brown had 15 and Michael Porter Jr. tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Nuggets, who trailed by one before outscoring the Lakers 26-14 over the final 7 1/2 minutes.

Anthony Davis had 28 points and 18 rebounds and LeBron James and Austin Reaves each added 23 points, but it wasn't enough to prevent Los Angeles from its first three-game losing streak since early February.

The Lakers, who had a nine-game home win streak snapped, are faced with trying to become the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-0 playoff series deficit.

Jeff Green, Brown and Murray hit consecutive 3-pointers as part of a 13-0 run by the Nuggets that turned a 94-93 deficit into a 106-94 lead with less than five minutes remaining.

The Lakers responded with the next four points, but Jokic sank two free throws and hit a 3-pointer and Murray made a layup to push the advantage to 113-101 with 2:47 to go.

James made three 3-pointers after starting the series 0 for 13 from long range.

LeBron James insists there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Los Angeles Lakers despite falling 2-0 down to the top-seeded Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers were beaten 108-103 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, even though they were leading by 11 points in the third quarter and started the fourth still up by three.

Jamal Murray powered a decisive 15-1 Denver run in the fourth quarter, finishing with 37 points, while Nikola Jokic (23-17-12) made it five triple-doubles in the space of six games.

James, meanwhile, was unable to connect with any of his six three-point attempts in a frustrating night that saw him finish with 22 points.

But the 38-year-old did have 10 assists, nine rebounds and four steals and feels there is enough room for optimism ahead of Game 3 on home court, where the Lakers have won every game this postseason.

"I think we improved from Game 1 to Game 2," James said, per ESPN. 

"And if we can do the same thing from Game 2 to Game 3, we put ourselves in a position to win.

"This is not the NCAA tournament. It's the first to four wins. Until a team beats you four times, then you always have an opportunity to come out of it. That is the confidence we need to have.

"We can't go into any postseason game with comfort just because you either haven't lost at home or you're going back home. We have still got to play with the same desperation as we did [in Game 2].

"We came out with an L. The three-point line is what killed us in the fourth.

"[Murray] made shots at the end of the clock. We guard for 24 seconds and he made two big-time shots, one over [Anthony Davis] and one over me. 

"He had his 3-point shot going in the fourth. It’s no surprise to me, he’s done it before. Sometimes it’s a never-miss league."

James said what he called "a little ankle injury" would not stop him suiting up for Game 3 on Saturday.

Austin Reaves tied James for a team-high 22 points and had no concerns about his star teammate’s shooting woes from deep.

"I mean, he can shoot all he wants – it's LeBron James," said Reaves. "I don't think anybody bats an eye when he shoots a shot or questions his shot. 

"We want him taking whatever he feels comfortable with, just because he's a winning basketball player for his whole career and that's all he wants to do, he wants to win."

Coach Darvin Ham had similar views on James' long-range shooting after Thursday's loss.

Ham said: "He [James] was open, they're playing off of him. He's a highly capable three-point shooter, he let it fly.

"Proud of our guys, they bounced back and we addressed a lot of the things that we said we were going to try to do better.

"Still got to be better in transition D. But overall the energy was there, the effort was there, the urgency was there, we just caught a bad stretch."

The Lakers have now lost consecutive games for the first time since the middle of March. After beating the odds to make the playoffs following a woeful start to the regular season, Ham was quick to remind observers the Lakers should not be counted out. 

"I've been down 2-10, 0-5," Ham said. "You're never as good as they say you are and you're never as bad as they say you are.

"You've just got to treat each day like its own entity. Each day, each game an opportunity to go out and get better. Never get too high and never get too low."

Davis also vowed to improve in Game 3. He had 14 rebounds and four blocks but was restricted to 18 points on 4-of-15 shooting after scoring 40 points in Game 1.

The eight-time All-Star said: "I'm going to continue to shoot those shots and I got to be better, more efficient, help the team win. So, I'll be better."

Jamal Murray and Michael Malone wanted to make sure people would be talking about the Denver Nuggets after Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

They achieved just that as the Nuggets moved 2-0 ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers with a 108-103 win, led by Murray's 37 points.

Murray scored 23 points in a huge fourth quarter that Denver had started three points behind. The Canadian also recorded 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals.

Nikola Jokic impressed again, registering his fifth triple-double in the space of six games with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists.

It was clear after Thursday's game that the Nuggets had been frustrated to see much of the coverage of their 132-126 win in Game 1 discussing the positives of the Lakers' performance.

Now, Denver are two wins away from a first NBA Finals appearance.

"You win Game 1 and all everybody talked about was the Lakers," said Malone, per ESPN.

"Let's be honest, the national narrative was, 'Hey, the Lakers are fine. They're down 1-0, but they figured something out'.

"No one talked about how Nikola just had an historic performance. He's got 13 playoff triple-doubles now, third all-time. What he's doing is just incredible on a nightly basis on the biggest stage in the world.

"But their narrative wasn't about the Nuggets. The narrative wasn't about Nikola. The narrative was about the Lakers and their adjustments. 

"So you know, you put that in your pipe and you smoke it, you come back and you know what, we're gonna go up 2-0."

Murray added: "We're the Denver Nuggets; we're used to that.

"Even when we win, they talk about the other team. We beat the Clippers in the bubble, they talk about the other team. 

"Same old, same old. It fuels us a little more and will be sweeter when we win the chip."

Murray, who is still battling an ear infection, had only made five of his first 17 shots before his decisive late surge.

"It would have been a lot easier if I had made them in the first half!" he said.

"Playing in the Western Conference finals against the Lakers and LeBron James, it's an amazing opportunity, and it's something you're going to look back in history and remember for the rest of your life."

James and Austin Reaves both scored 22 points for the Lakers, while Rui Hachimura added 21 off the bench.

Anthony Davis had 18 points and 14 rebounds but was held to a 4-of-15 shooting performance after scoring 40 points in Game 1.

Murray lifted Denver to a crucial 15-1 run that put them 96-84 ahead with just over five minutes left. He scored four of his six three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

"I love Jamal Murray," added Malone. "This is not just like I'm coaching him. We've been together seven years and been through a lot of ups and downs.

"To see him back playing at the level he's playing at, the first thought for me is just tremendous pride and just so happy for him. Because I saw the dark days coming back from that ACL injury.

"He needs to continue to do that. Obviously our goal is not done. We have to win this series. Our goal is to win a championship, and he's going to be a big part of that."

Jokic said about Murray: "He was special and he won us the game. He played 42 minutes, his energy was amazing. 

"Yes, maybe in the first half, he struggled to make shots. But when it mattered the most, he made shots and won us the game basically."

Game 3 takes place on Saturday in Los Angeles, with the Lakers unbeaten at home so far in the playoffs.

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