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Lakers Versus Nuggets Series Preview



Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a 2-10 start to the season, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since their 2020 championship season. The Lakers will face the number one seed in the West, the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets defeated the Phoenix Suns and are back in the conference finals for the first time since 2020 when they lost to the Lakers. As these two teams get ready to play each other for a chance to move on to the NBA Finals and potentially win a championship, here is how the teams match up with each other:

Star Power:

Lebron James & Anthony Davis
The Los Angeles Lakers have two top ten players on their team. Anthony Davis has been a defensive force for the Lakers. In both the Memphis and Golden State series, Davis was able to alter shots, rebound the basketball, and use his length to alter shots and win games. Davis is anchor of the best defensive team in the playoffs, and according to Basketball Reference he is the best defensive player in the playoffs.

The Lakers also have Lebron James, who in year 20, with a torn tendon in his foot is still playing at an All- Star caliber level. James has been pacing himself in the playoffs, serving more as a facilitator, and selectively timing his runs to maintain his gas tank and from risking further injury to his leg. He has concentrated on rebounding the basketball, on ball defense and making sure role players like Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Lonnie Walker IV are engaged in the offense. In game six versus the Warriors, Lebron drove to the room eight times in a half, something that he hadn’t done in the playoffs until that point. His ability to understand the moment and know his body and dig deep into the gas tank when his team needs him too, has allowed the Lakers to flourish and thrive. In year 20, Lebron James is playing as a part of a system, he is no longer the system. His veteran savvy and intelligence, will be crucial for Los Angeles to win the next series.

So far, Lebron and Davis have been a force for the Lakers in the playoffs:

Nikola Jokic
Jokic is playing like the best player in the world. In the Western Conference Finals against Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Deandre Dayton, Jokic averaged 34.5 PTS, 13.2 REB, 10.3 AST. According to NBA History only three players in history have averaged a 30-point triple double in the playoffs:

The Suns were viewed by many as the team to beat when they acquired Kevin Durant, and yet the Denver Nuggets were clearly the superior team in large part because of the play of Jokic. Jokic is leading all NBA players in the playoffs in PER and Assists in the playoffs. No one has been player as good and as complete as Jokic since the playoffs started:

Role Players:
The Lakers role players have played a big role in their success. Lonnie Walker IV, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves have all had big games in the playoffs. This seems to be one of the most well-balanced teams that Lebron James has had in his entire career with a slew of young shooters that can defend and score from all parts of the court.

Lakers role players were routinely going at Steph Curry and scoring at will in game six:

For the Nuggets, one of their role players are playing like stars. Jamal Murray who didn’t make an All-NBA team nor an All- Star team this year averaged 24.8 PTS, 6.5 AST, 4.8 REB for the Nuggets in the conference semifinals. For the Nuggets to win the series they will need Murray to produce like an All- Star as the defensive focus of the Lakers will center on Jokic.

X- Factor:
The x-factor of the series will be Aaron Gordon. Gordon in 6’8 and is good enough that will force Lebron James to expend energy on defense. He is the type of player that can go off for 30 points any given night. In the conference semifinals he shot 45% from the field and 42 % from the three-point line. Gordon’s shooting prowess will allow Murray and Jokic to operate at All- Star level and prevent the Lakers from double teaming their two main scoring options without making them pay.

Both Michael Malone and Darvin Ham have been excellent this postseason. For Malone, he has maximized Jokic’s talents and has taught the Nuggets to play a brand of unselfish basketball that is ego free. The Denver nuggets have great chemistry, play unselfish and are the top seed in the West and reached the Western Conference Finals. Malone has been instrumental in instilling a culture of unselfishness similar to what Popovich did with the Spurs, and the result has been that the Nuggets are consistent winners at the top of the Western Conference standings.

For the Lakers, their first-year head coach had a rough season. The team started 2-10 with players that did not fit the pace and space needed to mesh with Anthony Davis and Lebron James. But after a trade deadline that saw the acquisition of Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Dennis Schroeder, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, his team became one of the best defensive teams, and one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA post trade deadline. In the playoffs, Ham has not been afraid to make adjustments and start different role players, as we have seen with Reaves and Schoeder. Ham has been pushing all the right buttons to maximize the strength of his roster and it has resulted in two consecutive upsets.

Rollo Predicton:
This is a tough series to predict because both teams are very good. The Denver Nuggets in particular give me early years Spurs vibe with Jokic playing the role of a young Tim Duncan and Murray a young Tony Parker. The Nuggets are on a different class than the Warriors and the Grizzlies when it comes to talent and their coaching is as good as anyone in the NBA. Then there is the fact that no one on the Laker’s roster is playing as good as Jokic who is the best player in the series and with Jimmy Butler playing hobbled, Jokic is the clear-cut best player in the playoffs. Not to mention the Nuggets have home-court advantage. And yet, It will be a tall task to eliminate the Lakers and beat that team four times in a seven game series. The Lakers matchup well with the Nuggets, splitting the season series at two games a piece and have the experience and the savvy to steal a game on the road. They also have something that no other team in the NBA has: Lebron James. If this series goes the distance, James is the one man can calm down the nerves of his role players and super star sidekick, not letting the crowd and the emotional swings of the game get to him. That experience and wisdom will come in handy in this series and that is why I am picking the Lakers to move on to the NBA finals after a grueling seven game series.

Prediction: Lakers in Seven

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