Anthony Davis gives the Lakers what they need in Game 4 win over Nuggets

Lakers forward Anthony Davis looks to pass over Denver Nuggets forwards Torrey Craig (3) and Jerami Grant during the Lakers' 114-108 win in Game 4 on Thursday.  (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

When it really counted, Anthony Davis did what the Lakers needed him to do. Early with his scoring — he scored the Lakers’ first 10 points — and late with two critical rebounds in a game despite having been kept off the glass for most of the game.

With those rebounds, the Lakers stole what the Nuggets needed most — time to close the gap.

The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 114-108 behind 60 points from Davis (34) and James (26) in a game in which they dominated the rebounding margin and scored 25 second-chance points.

With the win, the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets in Orlando, Fla., and are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010. Denver faces its third 3-1 deficit of this year’s playoffs.

Dwight Howard got his first start on a healthy Lakers roster, replacing JaVale McGee. He rewarded Lakers coach Frank Vogel for his trust. Howard scored eight points with eight rebounds in the first quarter alone.

Davis’ offensive contributions also pushed the Lakers in the first quarter. He didn’t miss a shot until 3:58 remained in the second quarter. By that point he had scored 14 points. He missed his next four shots — three in the second quarter and one in the third.

With about two minutes left in the half, Denver's Jamal Murray drove at the rim. He elevated for what looked like a right-handed dunk attempt with James in front of him ready to block his shot. Instead, while in mid-air, Murray brought the ball down and around James’ midsection, then spun it up and into the basket to cut the Lakers' lead to 57-51.

. The Lakers missed 10 of their last 12 shots before halftime, which allowed the Nuggets to close what had been a double-digit gap. At halftime, the Lakers led, 60-55.

Denver shot 59% in the first half, but it wasn’t enough to jump in front of the Lakers, who had taken 10 more shots than the Nuggets and made five more free throws.

Eight third-quarter points from Rajon Rondo and seven from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope helped the Lakers hang onto their lead after three periods, but it was only three points.

Twice late in the fourth, Murray tried to attack. James went step for step with him and denied him both times. Murray didn’t get free throws on either trip, though he thought he deserved them. On the first one, James helped lead a fastbreak that resulted in James scoring at the other end.

A scoring drought influenced by a tough Lakers defense kept the Nuggets from going on a run to take the game. Murray finished with 32 points.

The Nuggets have been here twice before. They trailed 3-1 to the Utah Jazz before winning that series. They trailed 3-1 to the Clippers before winning that series. They thrive in elimination games, and will face the Lakers in another one Saturday.

But the Lakers have also been here. They beat each of their first two playoff opponents 4-1.

Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.

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