Lakers vs. Nuggets Western Conference Finals Preview
LAKERS VS. NUGGETS WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS PREVIEW – Did we travel back in time? Three years ago, the conference finals featured the same four teams in the bubble in Florida.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets face off in the Western Conference Finals. Jayson Tatum’s heroics sent the Boston Celtics to yet another Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers.
With the Lakers and Nuggets both winning their respective series in six games, the WCF begins on Tuesday, so let’s take a quick look and make a prediction.
Look Inside the WCF
That 2020 Lakers team that won the NBA Finals defeated the Nuggets in five games. This 2023 Lakers squad is much different, although LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still terrorizing opponents left and right.
The Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies in six games and then topped the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors also in six games. The Warriors-Lakers series featured several unlikely heroes for LA, including Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, and the new fan favorite,. Austin Reaves.
The Nuggets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games and then ruined the Phoenix Suns’ NBA Finals hopes and sent Monty Williams to the unemployment line with a six-game series victory.
Nikola Jokic has been a triple-double machine, and Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon have contributed in big ways.
Now, three years later, Jokic and the Nuggets face LeBron and the Lakers. This time, Denver has a home-court advantage, although it certainly hasn’t mattered much for the 7-seed Lakers, who have won one road in each of the first two series.
The Matchup To Watch
I can just write two names and that’s all that needs to be explained: Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis.
Arguably one of the most talented offensive players in Jokic faces off against one of the best defensive players in Davis. If we take a trip down memory lane to that 2020 bubble series, Anthony Davis averaged an out-of-this-world 31.2 PPG with 6.2 rebounds. Jokic averaged 21.8 PPG with 7.2 rebounds and five assists in that series, one the Lakers won in five games.
The way Anthony Davis has been playing lately is too tough to ignore. He’s unleashed his true potential, one that has him in the top 10 debate, if not the top 5.
Jokic is Jokic, although Phoenix had nobody that could even remotely frustrate Jokic on either end, so Davis is a massive upgrade over anybody Jokic has seen this postseason.
A Bit Of Revenge
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a championship ring from that postseason with the Lakers. Then, the Lakers shipped him away with Kyle Kuzma and others for Russell Westbrook, a move that backfired tremendously.
Now, Caldwell-Pope is with the Nuggets, so you can be sure they will be picking his brain to get every ounce of help they can.
The X-Factor in this Series
There are plenty of big names: Jokic, Davis, LeBron, Murray, Gordon, Michael Porter Jr, and even D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. We know all of that.
But, the x-factor for this series will be Rui Hachimura, another prized trade deadline acquisition for Rob Pelinka and the Lakers.
Hachimura’s role in the Golden State series shrunk, and not because of his ability. Moreover, it was the Warriors’ small lineup that forced Hachimura to play a lesser role.
The Nuggets go eight-deep, but there’s a path to Hachimura playing heavy minutes against either Porter or Gordon. Hachimura exploded for 21 points in the Game 2 loss, but he combined for just 20 points over the final four games. He played 20 or more minutes just twice in that series, and Darvin Ham elected to go with a guard-heavy lineup, which worked wonders against the Warriors.
However, we might see Hachimura play more minutes in this series, and the Lakers will need him to step up and bully the ball down low on both ends of the floor.
You can discuss and watch that 2020 series all you want, and there are a lot of things to takeaway. However, both teams are much different. Jokic has been playing at an unreal level all season long. LeBron and Davis have flipped that switch, and Austin Reaves has become the hero of the season and is getting ready for the Brinks truck to back up in his driveway this summer.
Then there’s DLO and Schroder, not to mention Lonnie Walker IV. The Nuggets depth is razor-thin, and Bruce Brown is the only legitimate depth piece that made a difference in the Suns series. If they go through foul troubles, Mike Malone will have a headache trying to find a lineup that works.
All in all, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are on a mission, and when LeBron is on, he can’t be stopped. The Lakers take this series in six games: LA wins Game 1 in Denver, loses Game 2, wins both in LA, and then loses Game 5 to seal the deal and punch the NBA Finals ticket in Game 6 in LA.
After a 2-10 start, Darvin Ham getting this team to the finals and Rob Pelinka revamping an awful roster should be praised tremendously.