LeBron James rips officiating: What is replay center for?

DENVER — After a heartbreaking 101-99 loss in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, LeBron James was one of several Los Angeles Lakers players to criticize the officiating during his postgame comments.

“I don’t understand what’s going on in the replay center, to be honest,” James said.

James has voiced his displeasure with the league’s replay process several times this season, such as when his foot was ruled to be on the 3-point line in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and out of bounds in a loss to the Golden State Warriors.

On Monday night in Denver, he specifically took issue with a shooting foul called against Michael Porter Jr. on D’Angelo Russell late in the third quarter that was overturned after Nuggets coach Michael Malone challenged the call.

“D-Lo clearly gets hit in the face on a drive,” James said. “What the f— do we have a replay center for if it’s going to go [like that]? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Russell was seemingly in agreement, writing on X after the game, “That’s a foul we all saw it on national television.”

L.A. led 79-69 with 39.5 seconds remaining in the third quarter when the foul was overturned, erasing two free throw attempts for Russell. The Lakers point guard shot 82.8% from the free throw line this season.

The missed opportunity for two points became that much more consequential with the way the game ended: Jamal Murray’s fadeaway jumper on the baseline from 16 feet away as time expired delivered Denver a two-point win and 2-0 series lead.

Crew chief Scott Foster announced over the public address system that Porter’s contact was “marginal,” and the call was overturned.

A Lakers source told ESPN that James’ foul on Murray with 57.1 seconds left, which rewarded the Nuggets guard two free throws that tied the game 97-97, also could be considered “marginal contact.”

“It makes no sense to me,” James continued. “It bothers me. … And then I just saw what happened with the Sixers-Knicks game too. Like, what are we doing?”

As James (26 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds) got up from the podium and headed toward the exit, he added, “It’s f—ing stupid.”

While L.A. had a 19-6 advantage in free throw attempts in Game 1, Denver had a 17-13 edge in attempts in Game 2.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham also referenced Lakers center Anthony Davis’ foul trouble; Davis picked up his fourth with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter while setting a screen on Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. L.A. was up 74-63 at the time, and Ham subbed out Davis to try to keep him from fouling out. At that point, Davis was 14-for-18 from the field for 32 points. He attempted only one shot — a missed pull-up in the lane midway through the fourth quarter — the rest of the game.

“You can’t have a remedy for foul trouble,” Ham said. “It limits your player, takes all the aggression away.”

With Davis’ play affected by his fouls, Denver fought back from a 20-point deficit early in the third quarter. Murray scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth, with his buzzer-beater representing just the third winning shot to complete a comeback of 20 or more points in an NBA playoff game since 2000.

Jokic, who finished with 27 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists, also did damage down the stretch while matched up against the Lakers’ Rui Hachimura, as Davis was switched off Jokic to avoid more fouls.

L.A. was “bogged down” in the fourth quarter, according to Lakers guard Austin Reaves, as James scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and the rest of the team went just 3-for-9.

James missed his last shot — a 3-pointer from the top of the key with the score tied at 99 and 16 seconds left.

“Had a wide-open look, and it rimmed out,” James said. “I mean, it rimmed in, and it rimmed out.”

Denver, meanwhile, went 7-for-7 to close out the fourth quarter.

The series now shifts to L.A.’s Crypto.com Arena on Thursday, as the Lakers attempt to snap what is now a 10-game losing streak against the Nuggets.

“Win Game 3,” Davis said. “It’s that simple. Just win Game 3.”

Russell, who bounced back from a 6-for-20 shooting performance in Game 1 to score 23 points in Game 2 and tie a franchise postseason record with seven made 3-pointers, expressed confidence moving forward.

“We did a lot of good things that gave us an opportunity to win all night,” Russell said. “Came down to some things that we really couldn’t control. I like our fight.”

For everything that went right for the Lakers on Monday, there is plenty of room for improvement. James went 4-for-11 on shots at the rim, with the seven misses tying the most he has had in a playoff game since joining the Lakers. Hachimura went 1-for-7 in the starting lineup. Denver’s bench outscored L.A.’s reserves 12-6.

“We have stretches where we just don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor,” Davis said. “And those are the ones that cost us.”

Second-guessing can’t change the series, however. Only preparing to deliver a different outcome can.

Protect home,” James said. “That’s where my mindset goes. And obviously, the only game that matters now is Game 3 and how we can get better. How we can figure this team out. So, Game 3 is where my mindset is.”

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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