June 23, 2024

The chant began in the final minutes of another lost season, the blame thundering down from furious Laker fans in four sharp syllables.

“Fi-re Dar-vin…fi-re Dar-vin…fi-re Dar-vin.”

The Lakers are on the precipice of a second consecutive playoff disaster, and it’s becoming clear who could take the fall.

In the wake of Thursday’s 112-105 playoff loss to the splendidly coached Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena, the smoking wreckage has seemingly trapped one man.

Darvin Ham, just one season after being the toast of the town, is in danger of being toast.

His team failed to make the right adjustments and folded in the third quarter again Thursday as they lost to Denver for an unreal 11th consecutive time overall and a third time in three games in this first-round playoff duel.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, so the Lakers are essentially done.

No Laker coach has ever come back from publicly questioning players, publicly angry fans and a publicly embarrassing postseason, so Ham is also at risk of being done.

It seems hastily silly to fire a coach who led the Lakers to the Western Conference finals in his only other season here. But this is how the Buss ownership group has recently operated, showing great devotion to superstars while having little patience with head coaches.

1

Lakers forward LeBron James looks over as Nuggets center Nikola Jokic chats with the ref

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Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) is swarmed by Nuggets while trying to hold onto the ball

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Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon scores easily in front of Lakers LeBron James and Gabe Vincent

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Lakers forward Anthony Davis battles Nuggets center Nikola Jokic for a rebound

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Lakers forward LeBron James wipes sweat from his face in the final moments of the team's Game 3 playoff loss

1. Lakers forward LeBron James (23) looks over as Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) chats with the ref during the fourth quarter. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times) 2. Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) is swarmed by Nuggets Jamal Murray (27), Nikola Jokic (15), Michael Porter Jr. (1) and Peyton Watson (8) during the fourth quarter. 3. Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) scores easily in front of Lakers LeBron James (23) and Gabe Vincent (7). 4. Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) battles Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) for a rebound. 5. Lakers forward LeBron James wipes sweat from his face in the final moments of Game 3.

Just look at the latest casualty list, which includes one coach who won an NBA title and another who deftly facilitated the final seasons of Kobe Bryant.

Mike Brown barely one year. Mike D’Antoni two years. Byron Scott two years. Luke Walton three years. Frank Vogel three years.

(Michael Malone of the defending champion Nuggets? Nine years. Just saying.)

It might not seem fair, but the seat under Ham is growing untenably hot after the Nuggets halftime adjustments Thursday resulted in a 12-point advantage in a third quarter that stole the remains of what was once a 12-point Lakers lead and quieted a once-raucous crowd.

Well, OK, the place didn’t go completely quiet.

Amid four consecutive Lakers turnovers in that third quarter, the air was filled with boos.

The Lakers have now been outscored by 31 points in the three third quarters this series. They have now lost three games in which they have led by 12 points, 20 points, and 12 points.

The ugliness Thursday reached a peak midway through the fourth quarter, when Snoop Dogg made a big show of leaving the game early and was soon followed by many of the fans.

Meanwhile, at least one Laker was just as checked out on the bench. D’Angelo Russell, who missed all seven of his shots on a stunningly scoreless night, was seen sitting outside the huddle during a timeout while appearing to be eating.

These are not good looks. These are the kind of looks that get Lakers coaches canned, especially coaches who are already being widely criticized for ill-fitting rotations and unfocused strategy.

Snoop Dog sits courtside as the Lakers play the Nuggets in Game 3 of their NBA playoff series at Crypto.com Arena

Snoop Dog sits courtside as the Lakers play the Nuggets in Game 3 of their NBA playoff series at Crypto.com Arena Thursday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

As much as Ham is liked personally by the organization — and this columnist — the truth is that the Lakers have not only been outplayed by the Nuggets, but Ham has been outcoached by Malone.

“We’ve got to come with competitive pride … that’s all we should be concerned with, coming in here Saturday, having competitive pride,” Ham said Thursday.

That competitive pride in Game 4 will be challenged by competitive chaos. If they get swept, it could be Ham’s last stand, and the players surely know it, because all signs have been pointing to it.

Ham will be cited as the reason for this quote by LeBron James, who finished Thursday’s game with three turnovers and several other miscues while appearing weary in several long stretches.

“We come out in the third quarter with not much energy or we can kind of lose track of rotations and detail that we had in the first half,” James said. “I think a lot of that played into it.”

Ham will also be cited for the reason behind this James quote about one of the coach’s perceived biggest weaknesses, his lack of proper in-game adjustments.

“Regular season and postseason are two different things, they’re different situations,” said James. “So what happens in the regular season, obviously you build those habits in the regular season, but the game totally changes when you’re in the postseason and you have to be able to make an adjustment.”

All this postseason noise actually began after Game 2, when the players didn’t react well to blowing that 20-point lead, with Davis openly upset with how the team is reacting to its coaching.

“We have stretches where we just don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor,” said Davis at the time.

Damning words, for sure, and Ham responded the next day, saying he disagreed with Davis’ assessment.

Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell sits sideways on the bench in the final moments of the Lakers' loss to the Nuggets

Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell sits sideways on the bench in the final moments of the Lakers’ loss to the Nuggets in Game 3 of their playoff series Thursday at Crypto.com Arena.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

“I mean, I just think sometimes when plays don’t turn out the way you think they should, then the frustration sets in a little bit,” Ham said. “But I don’t think it’s [from] us not being organized. I think I have incredibly talented coaches all along my staff. We pride ourselves, whether it’s a practice, a shootaround, a film session, a game or whatever, we pride ourselves on being highly efficient and organized. I just chalk that up to being frustrated. It’s an emotional game, the way it ended and all of that. But I’ll agree to disagree on that one.”

Furthering the questions surrounding Ham is an old video making the rounds on social media. It is a timeout strategy session from last season that shows him struggling to write anything cogent on a grease board. The video is old and out of context, but the perception is real, and this organization is all about perception.

It says here that the Lakers should chill.

It says here that they will never build a consistent championship contender if they keep changing coaches with every locker room gripe or lower bowl beef.

It says here the players need to take the sort of accountability publicly demanded by Austin Reaves Thursday, when he said, “You can talk about adjustments, you can talk about this and that, but at the end of the day, we got to go put our best foot forward in basketball games. You can talk about all the, everything else outside the talks of everything, but at the end of the day, you got to man up and go win.”

But no matter what anybody says, it’s also obvious that the Lakers aren’t in the same class as the Nuggets, they’re as far from a title as they’ve been in recent years and somebody is going to have to pay.

Right or wrong, that bill could soon be addressed directly to Darvin Ham.


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