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Enthralling series awaits as Nuggets seek revenge on Lakers

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15th May, 2023

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals gets underway on Wednesday (AEST) in Colorado as the Denver Nuggets look to topple the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers.

Throughout the season, time and time again the Nuggets have been forced to prove their doubters wrong by being able to stay consistent for a full 82-game campaign to claim the No.1 seed in the West.

It’s been anything but consistent for the Lakers as they abysmally started the season, holding a 2-10 record after 12 games and leaving many involved in the organisation to do some soul-searching.

That led to rapid changes during the trade period as LA boss Rob Pelinka deserves huge praise for the pieces he was able to add. They quickly realised that the Russell Westbrook experiment wasn’t working, trading him to the Clippers and acquiring the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba to offer depth on both sides of the floor and assist LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Both the Nuggets and the Lakers are extremely well coached by Michael Malone and Darvin Ham respectively, adjusting their tactics accordingly to pull off some upsets in these playoffs.

The Warriors had no answers to LeBron and co. as they were beaten in size and in the paint with their inefficient shooting not helping their cause. You could argue that the Nuggets overcame the Suns in the same way, while not underestimating their home record in the high altitude, producing a 34-7 home record in the regular season and taking that form into the playoffs, yet to lose in any of their six home games.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 18: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets passes the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at Ball Arena on December 18, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

Back in 2020 during the crux of the pandemic, these two teams faced off in the conference finals taking place in the bubble, taking away home-court advantage for both. 

That series ended in a 4-1 triumph for the Lakers where it could be argued that the high altitude of Colorado wouldn’t have been enough as it was simply a mismatch. 


Despite coach Malone having Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on the roster, they lacked those pieces around them to dominate, especially in the paint where they did not have a recognised rim protector. 

Fast forward to now, the Nuggets haven’t specifically traded in that area, but defensively they are a much more compact unit which should force the Lakers to shoot more perimeter shots and ask the question of the likes of Austin Reaves to answer.

Jokic and AD will be the most talked about match-up in the coming days, and with good reason. It will be the best offensive player battling it out against the best defensive player in the playoffs.

More broadly, it will be a match between the best offence and the best defence. The Lakers already posed the same defensive threat three years ago in the conference finals, but the Nuggets have strengthened around Murray to be a more complete shooting team.

Offensively this season, Denver is averaging 50.4 per cent from the field and 37.9 per cent in three-point attempts, while the Lakers have recorded 48.2 per cent and 34.6 per cent respectively.

Without a doubt, as much as the Lakers benefited from a couple of poor shooting nights from the Warriors overall, they were helped more so by Steve Kerr’s non-shooters in the form of Draymond Green and Kevin Looney. You would expect the Nuggets to punish the Lakers more efficiently both in the paint and behind the arc.

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The spotlight will firmly be on the stars such as LeBron, AD, Jokic, and Murray, but this series could come down to which team can squeeze the most productivity out of their role players. For the Lakers, Lonnie Walker IV, Rui Hachimura, and Reaves have come up clutch in big-time moments, as the Nuggets have experienced the same results from Bruce Brown and Michael Porter Jr.

In Games 3 and 4 in Arizona, the Nuggets’ defence was switched off in allowing Durant and Booker to combine for 86 and 72 points, simply having no answers. That can’t afford that to happen against the Lakers and coach Malone needs to prepare accordingly.

Denver should have the slight advantage with the home advantage, but this is an incredibly tight series to call where it could even be decided in a sudden-death Game 7.

Expect an epic tussle.