After the Lakers lost to the Nuggets, Stephen A. Smith blasted both the team and Anthony Davis. But were the criticisms fair? Photo Credit: ABC Photo Credit: ABC

While LeBron James scored his 40,000th NBA point on Saturday night and his Los Angeles Lakers led in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, they were still no match for the Denver Nuggets, who came away with a 124-114 win.

After the game, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith criticized the Lakers for again falling short in a big moment. In particular, he blasted Anthony Davis for getting badly outplayed by Denver superstar, Nikola Jokić.

“Opening Night, the Lakers open the season, they lose to the Nuggets. The night that Kobe’s statue is revealed, they lose that night. Tonight, LeBron James surpasses 40,000 points, the only player in NBA history to ever do it. They lose that game. It seems like in the big moments, the Lakers don’t measure up.”

Then, after talking briefly about D’Angelo Russell’s struggles in the second half, Smith focused on Davis.

“I said ‘You ain’t gonna stop Jokić,’ which didn’t happen. ‘But what you have to do if you’re Anthony Davis is nullify what he gives you by making sure you give the same.’ You can’t have Nikola Jokić dropping 35 and answering with 17. You just can’t do it.

“If you are the Los Angeles Lakers and you’ve got championship aspirations, the big boy, who is an All-Star and a superstar talent in this game has to show up and give me a little bit extra, when that other superstar — who is the reigning, defending NBA champion — when that brother shows up. I didn’t see that tonight. And I don’t like it.”

The criticism of the Lakers not showing up in big games is fair — but only to a point.

All three games in question, Opening Night, the Kobe Bryant Statue dedication and LeBron James getting 40,000 points, came against the Nuggets. After Saturday, Denver is 42-19, the No. 3 in the West and only one-half game out of the No. 1 spot. Los Angeles, meanwhile is 33-29, the No. 10 seed in the West and almost certainly locked into the play-in tournament. Are the Lakers not showing up for the big games? Or are they just not as good as the NBA’s best?

Charles Barkley recently said that the Lakers weren’t that good. This may be as simple as that.

Really, that’s the heart of the Davis vs. Jokić discussion, as well. There’s certainly something to what Smith was saying. It’s hard for Los Angeles to beat a team like Denver if Jokić is more than doubling Davis’ point total. But is Davis really falling short? Or is he simply getting outplayed by a person who, at this point of his career, is simply a far better player?

The Nuggets are the defending champions, who got to the finals by sweeping the Lakers. Saturday night’s result may be as simple as the better team with the better players winning.

[Photo Credit: ABC]

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