Series Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets (Western Conference Final)
The matchup between the teams of Los Angeles that everyone thought would decide the Western Conference is no longer viable. The Los Angeles Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets who now will get to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nuggets have surprised everyone this season, advancing in the playoffs while trailing 3-1 twice. In the first round versus the Jazz and in the second round against the Clippers.
The play of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray has been eye opening. No one expected these two to have enough firepower to beat the Clippers. But they proved many wrong and awaiting for them is perhaps their biggest challenge of their season - a series against the Lakers.
The Nuggets have played four more games in the playoffs than the Lakers. The six day rest for the Lakers will make it tough for the Nuggets to keep up Friday night in Game One.
Denver has yet to face a team in the playoffs that has a true superstar big to counter Jokic. Jokic has been doing a bit of everything from shooting the ball from deep, being a facilitator and working the paint. His game will be put to the test on a Western Conference Finals stage that the Nuggets have not seen in 11 years.
Anthony Davis, arguably the best defender in the league, will likely be on Jokic the entire series. Denver has been playing with the underdog mentality as of recent and that's going to continue versus the daunting Lakers.
Their biggest advantage that the Nuggets have is that the pressure is all on the Lakers who presumably get a break with a matchup against the Nuggets. Denver obviously can't compete with the experience or superstar power such as a team like the Lakers or Clippers, but they do play as a team and without a doubt believe that they deserve to be competing for a spot in the NBA Finals.
Frank Vogel and Mike Malone were both regarded as average coaches heading into the 2020 season. Both have solid rosters, however the adjustments these two have made throughout these playoffs has been remarkable.
Vogel has gotten major contributions coming from his bench, specifically Rajon Rondo, Markieff Morris and Alex Caruso. The Lakers again will rely on the play of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard to relieve Davis who’s going to need rest, especially having to guard Jokic for the majority of the time.
On the other hand, Mike Malone has gotten unexpected reliable play from Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr. and Torrey Craig. Where the Nuggets might run into a problem is when Jokic is off the court and Mason Plumlee is forced to guard Davis.
While a conference finals appearance is new territory for most of the Nuggets’ roster, the Lakers’ role players have experience in the playoffs and playing for championship teams. Sometimes the moment can get too big for young, inexperienced players when going up against James.
The Lakers’ only chance to find themselves in trouble during this series is if James is too passive.
The offensive production from Davis may not be as effective with Jokic guarding him. Jokic has the size and body type to play Davis in the post as well as some surprising athleticism to follow him out beyond the arc.
Malone will be relying on a rotation of young players to guard James, who has steamrolled both Portland and Houston when driving to the basket. Denver needs to force James to make passes. If they let him get deep into the paint to either pass and/or score, this could be another five game series that the Lakers handle with ease.
It will be interesting to see if the Nuggets’ magic will finally run out. They’ve stormed back in both of their series so far, completely out played the Clippers and certainly earning this opportunity. However, nothing they did previously matter when playing the purple and gold. James seems to be on a mission right now and for a team to stop him it will take 48 minutes of pure energy, effort and minimal mistakes.
The Lakers' path of destiny to make Kobe Bryant proud perhaps takes a different route than expected. But they can’t afford to overlook the Nuggets who have one of the best young duos in the NBA and keep proving that they belong.
Sam Kirk is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.