The Los Angeles Lakers prepare to face unexpectedly the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
That’s it. We will not have a Morris twins matchup in the Western Conference Finals. The Denver Nuggets recovered from another down 1-3 and beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7, earning their first Conference Finals trip since 2009, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA fans will not enjoy the much-anticipated battle for LA, and maybe it is for the best since it could not have been played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The favorite Clippers, considered the main threat at the championship for the Los Angeles Lakers, were stunned by a young team that showed unity, resiliency and the ability to not crack under pressure. This is enough to sum up the Nuggets’ 2020 playoff run.
The Clippers looked like the only team that could stand between the Lakers and the championship, sometimes even the overwhelming favorite in the regular season, but the fact that they are not in play anymore does not mean that the purple and gold are going to have an easy path to the NBA Finals.
The Denver Nuggets have been a tough matchup for whoever faced them in this playoffs and the Lakers must not underrate them. They have been the team of resurgence, not only winning two consecutive series after being down 3-1, but also recovering from big deficits during games. They cannot be left for dead until the series is over and that is the mistake LA must avoid.
Strategically, they pose a hard challenge that caused problems to the Clippers. The purple and gold will not be able to count on double-teaming as they did with James Harden. With two overall threats like Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, it will be mostly ineffective, as the Clippers’ attempts proved.
The two stars improved dramatically their production in the playoffs. Jamal Murray went from averaging 18.5 points and 4.8 assists in the regular season to 27.1 points, 5 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
Jokic raised 19.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7 assists to 25.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6 assists. And a versatile supporting cast around them, not much monodimensional like the Houston Rockets’ one, has to be taken into account.
On the other hand, the Lakers should be the team best equipped to oppose them, having in Defensive Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis the best option to oppose at Jokic, with Dwight Howard as a backup.
The exceptional defensive turnover Frank Vogel deployed on Damian Lillard in the first round and Harden in the second, led by Alex Caruso, should be the best chance they have on Murray.
A more traditional game with the Serbian center spending much time on the floor will allow Vogel to return to his usual rotations, deploying AD at the power forward, and give minutes to JaVale McGee and Howard to anchor the defense.
It hopefully will make life harder at the rim for players like Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap and Monte Morris. Anyway, once again a team effort is required against this deep and versatile roster.
On offense the Lakers should not have big trouble against a team which plays with the second-lowest pace in the playoffs, allowing LeBron James and co. to slow down and play their half-court game. Denver also sports the worst defensive rating among second-round teams, which, combined with their slow pace, makes for bad defense.
In the end, the result remains highly uncertain, as conference finals should be, with the Los Angeles Lakers the clear favorite on paper but aware of the stubbornness to not be defeated the Nuggets displayed through these playoffs. A balanced series is in the cards.