LeBron James and Anthony Davis sat in front of their side-by-side lockers with their feet in ice buckets.
They didn’t say a word to each other. James looked at his phone. Davis had a thousand-yard stare.
The Lakers have overcome a lot this season, but their 119-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals transformed their typically jovial locker room following the trade deadline into an awkward space filled with deafening silence.
The Lakers now find themselves in a 3-0 series hole, something no team in NBA history has overcome.
When asked if there’s still a belief that they can turn things around, James made it clear that he’s not waving the white flag.
“I can’t speak for the guys right now, because I don’t know what’s going on through all their minds right now — but I still do,” said James, who had 23 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists.
“So, you know, it’s time to go right back home and start to refuel and start the treatment process and recovery process and get ready for Monday. My mindset is always locked in as if it’s Game 1.”
The Lakers haven’t lost hope yet — not with James in their locker room, who is known for rewriting history.
He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to become the first and only team to recover from a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals in 2016, stunning the Golden State Warriors who had the best regular season record in NBA history (73-9).
He became the league’s all-time leading scorer this season — surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points — despite being a pass-first player over his 20-season career.
And at age 38, he became the oldest player in league history to average 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists, according to StatHead.
So against impossibly long odds, James is going to try to rewrite history once again. Heading into an elimination Game 4 on Monday, James said his message to his team will be simple.
“I mean, just got to get one,” James said. “Just one at a time. Just focus on Game 4. And, you know, that’s all you can really think about.”
The Lakers have been fighting an uphill battle all season.
After they won their play-in game against Minnesota on April 11 to secure the seventh seed in the West, Lakers coach Darvin Ham wrote on the whiteboard “0.3%,” signifying the chances their analytical department gave them of making the playoffs following their 2-10 start. At the trade deadline, they were in 13 place in the Western Conference.
No one foresaw the Lakers reaching the Western Conference Finals.
They’re clinging to that now. They’ve done the tough-to-do to get here. Why not do the seemingly impossible now?
“The deficit is 3-0, not 4,” Ham said. “So as long as they have not gotten to four yet, there’s still hope. We’re still alive. We just have to focus on winning one game.”
In all three games this series, the Lakers have been within three points of the Nuggets in the fourth quarter. In the last two games, they’ve even held leads. But each game has ended the same way, with the Lakers overwhelmed by the Nuggets’ size, depth and superstars.
In Game 3, the Lakers led by one point with 7:48 left, 94-93, before the Nuggets went on a 13-0 run.
Really, the Lakers were playing catch-up all night. Jamal Murray had 17 points in the first quarter on 8-for-10 shooting to give the Nuggets a 14-point lead, their largest of the game. By halftime, he had 30 of his 37 points in 21 minutes.
The Lakers clawed their way back to tie the game in the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, things fell apart for the Lakers when Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Murray hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers.
Once again, the Nuggets proved to have more weapons, more talent and more energy when it counted most.
Other than James, the Lakers only got significant contributions from Anthony Davis (28 points and 18 rebounds), Austin Reaves (23 points) and Rui Hachimura (13 points). Meanwhile, the Nuggets had five players in double-figures.
Now, a Nuggets franchise that has never reached the NBA Finals is on the verge of making history. And the 17-time champion Lakers are on the precipice of being swept.
Nikola Jokic is far from celebrating, though.
“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,” said Jokic, who didn’t score a field goal until about 4 minutes into the second quarter but went on to finish with 24 points, six rebounds and eight assists.
“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. But we never know. They’re going to be aggressive. Of course, they’re going to be extra physical, extra — they’re going to run more.”
For the Lakers, everything is on the line.
So far, they’ve persevered over every challenge they’ve faced, but this will be their greatest one yet.
Now, all they can do is grit their teeth and hope they prevail once again — four times in a row.
“Obviously, as you see throughout the course of this season, we have always been a team to fight,” Davis said. “We are resilient. Everyone keeps fighting till it’s over. It’s not over.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.