Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs Denver Nuggets (2)
Who would of predicted this? Surely, not even Nuggets fans would of thought they’d be here. Especially not when they were down 3-1 against Utah and then again against the Clippers. How unstoppable are they? We are about to find out. Momentum is on the side of Denver, but they are about to collide with a very strong barrier. Who will come out on top?
A lot of this series is obviously going to come down to each teams superstar duo. Anthony Davis and LeBron James, squaring off against Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
There isn’t much to say about LeBron. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, not at all. The man is a legend. He has proven himself in the playoffs time and time again. I don’t have a lot to say about LeBron, because it seems a given that he will perform on both ends. I am expecting LeBron to have a near triple double for basically every game in this series. Around 25/12/8 per game, if I had to put it in numbers.
Anthony Davis is they key factor for the Lakers, in my opinion. If you’ve read my work before, you know how much AD frustrates me. He is such a fantastic player, but he doesn’t always play with energy and effort. You can’t fault his numbers, but I feel like they could be higher. Honestly, it’s mainly his rebounding that bugs me. He doesn’t crash the glass with the enthusiasm I’d like to see from a big guy. AD likes to play like he is small. He hangs out at the perimeter too much for my liking. Who am I to fault him though? With all that being said, he was pretty phenomenal against Houston. Look for AD to have about 30/10 per game.
Nikola Jokic has been an absolute beast of late. He will likely match up against Dwight Howard and Javale McGee. Two excellent defenders. If Lakers go “small” late in games like they have been, he will see some time on Anthony Davis as well. I imagine his numbers will slow a little but, but I think Jokic is still going to be a dominant force. I’d be pretty surprised if he wasn’t getting a triple/double every game. He can shoot the ball from outside well enough to give him an advantage over whichever big is guarding him. With the scoring ability around him, the Lakers can’t afford to double team him, especially not with the way he passes. I honestly cannot imagine him not being dominant in this series. The only thing that can stop Jokic, is Jokic. Actually, foul trouble could also stop him. Jokic is not a great pick and roll defender. The Lakers should try and exploit this as often as possible. If you can make him pick up a couple of cheap fouls early, that’s a huge blow for Denver.
It’s go time for Jamal Murray. He finished game 7 with an impressive 40 points. He is going to have be in that zone for most of this series if the Nuggets have any chance. I’m not saying he needs 40 a night (although it will certainly help) but he needs to shoot at a high percentage to keep the defense honest. Murray will have to remain aggressive and aim for close to 30 points night. I think Caruso will see most of the minutes on Murray, but Frank Vogel has a lot of options. If Caruso can’t stop him, he can try Rondo, KCP, Green or even LeBron. This will be a real test for Jamal Murray. He is going to have to work hard. I’m sure he will.
So we’ve gotten the dynamic duos out of the way. Let’s say for the sake of this, that they effectively cancel each other out. Which I think is a likely scenario. That would mean this series will come down to the other guys. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and even 7th options. Someone is going to have to step up for their team. It won’t have to be the same person each night, but it will have to be someone. It could be the difference maker. Will Rondo be a lethal scorer again? Michael Porter Jr.? Millsap? KCP? Caruso? Danny Green? Ha! Just, had to get that joke in. My money would be on Caruso for the Lakers and MPJ for Denver.
One thing you can’t look past, is how gruelling the playoffs have been so far for Denver. Each series has gone to 7 games, most of which Denver had to come from behind to get their wins. The Lakers have only played 10 games so far and haven’t played for almost a week. And not all of them have been close either, so they have been able to get some extra rest in. If this is another hard fought series, the legs of Denver might give way eventually. That’s also hard to imagine though, there is no quit in the Nuggets!
The last thing I want to address is the mentality of the Lakers. They cannot afford a feel out game. They cannot afford to turn it off at any point in this series. Denver have shown that if you give them a little bit of hope, they are like a snowball rolling downhill. They just keep picking up momentum and before you know it they are unstoppable. The Lakers will need to put them away ASAP. They also can’t afford to take their foot off the gas at any point in a game, no matter how big of a lead they have. Denver are the comeback kids. I’m sure the Lakers are aware of all of this and will come out focussed.
So what’s my prediction? It’s actually really hard to make a prediction for this series. I respect the Lakers enough to recognise their ability to win this series in 4 or 5 games. I also respect Denver enough to genuinely believe they have a chance of stealing this one in 6 or 7. It’s time to put some respect on the Nuggets name. I love a good comeback story and I will be cheering for Denver in this series. It’s hard to be against James though, give me the Lakers in 6.