Lakers vs. Nuggets Preview

Which team has the edge in the Western Conference Finals?

Everyone’s dream of a Lakers/Clippers Western Conference Finals was shattered at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets completed their second straight 3–1 comeback, sending the Clippers home early. While most people want to place the blame on the Clippers choking, which is very fair, I’d like to give Denver some credit. Jamal Murray finally found his rhythm again in a must-win game seven. Nikola Jokic looked like the best player in the entire series. The Nuggets are a real team. With that being said, let’s preview how the Western Conference Finals should go down.

The Los Angeles Lakers were one of the best teams during the regular season. They have continued that momentum into the playoffs. While they have lost each of their game ones in their previous series, LA hasn’t panicked. The Lakers regrouped and won the next four games of each matchup.

The Nuggets stunned the Clippers, coming back from a 3–1 deficit. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Lakers have been dominant on both sides of the ball throughout the postseason. They’re averaging the second most points per game, while shooting the highest percentage from the field. Their defense has held opponents to the third-fewest points per game, while averaging a league-high six blocks per game.

Lebron James and Anthony Davis have been leading the way for the one seed in the west. Both players are in the top ten of points per game. Both are also in the top eleven of rebounds per game. Not to mention Lebron is averaging the third-most assists in the playoffs. These stats have also led to both Lebron and Davis being in the top four of playoff PER (player efficiency rating).

The Lakers have cruised in the playoffs, winning both series 4–1. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Now it might feel like Denver doesn’t have a chance after looking at the dominating numbers the Lakers are putting up. However, there are weaknesses Los Angeles has that have led to them dropping two games in the playoffs. The first being the Lakers free throw percentage. Los Angeles has the fourth-worst free throw percentage during the playoffs. This isn’t anything new either, considering they finished the regular season with the third-lowest percentage in the NBA. This could prove to be an issue against a Denver team that can never be counted out. The Nuggets just won three straight games while trailing by double digits. If the Lakers struggle at the line, the door will be wide open for multiple Denver comebacks. The second weakness LA has shown during the playoffs is defending the three-point line. While the rest of their defense has been great, LA is middle of the pack when it comes to stopping threes. They allow just the ninth-lowest three-point percentage throughout the playoffs.

This is perhaps Denver’s best chance at upsetting the Lakers.

The Nuggets have been on fire from three-point range during the postseason. They are averaging the second-highest three-point percentage. This is largely due to Denver’s two stars feeling it from deep. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are both shooting at least 44% from three. This is also impressive considering both are making at least 2.5 threes per game. If Denver’s hot streak from three continues, then we should have a good series on our hands.

The Lakers won the season series 3–1 over Denver. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

The real question is if the Nuggets’ stars can keep it going. Jokic was dominant against the Clippers, but now he faces Anthony Davis. That’s going to be a completely different challenge than Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell. Davis is a better offensive and defensive threat than those two combined. That means the most important player in this series could be Jamal Murray. Murray’s going to have to replicate his play from the Utah series if Denver wants to upset the Lakers. It’s entirely possible however. Since the restart, Los Angeles has struggled defending guards due to the absence of Avery Bradley. That means the door is wide open for Murray to repeat his 31.6 points per game average. It won’t be easy, but neither is beating the Lakers.

Hopefully a good series awaits us. The good news is even if it looks like it’s getting out of hand early, you never can count out the Denver Nuggets.

University at Buffalo ’20 | BA in Communication | Writer for The Sports Scientist

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