No one saw this coming. Well… almost no one. And yet, when the Western Conference Finals begin on Friday night, it will not be the battle for Staples Center Supremacy everyone anticipated at the beginning of the season. And since it wouldn’t have happened in Staples anyways, it’s better to leave that for potentially next year anyways. This year we get an incredible matchup between the presumptive preseason favorites and the scrappy team that just plays the right way.
FIVE KEYS TO THE SERIES
Nikola Jokic vs. The Lakers Bigs
For all the scoring potential of Jamal Murray, Denver’s best player is Nikola Jokic. The Joker was clearly the best player on the court in Game 7 against the Clippers, and it showed just how effective he is at passing as well as scoring.
The question will be if he can remain as effective against the Lakers front-court.
Los Angeles can run Anthony Davis, Javelle McGee, and Dwight Howard at Jokic, and all three of them are better defenders than Zubac and Harrell were in round 2. The biggest matchup issue will come when AD is playing the 5, because not only is AD an effective defender, but he’s an offensive powerhouse that might have his way with Nikola on the offensive end.
Will Murray Be Able To Stay Hot?
This one is pretty self explanatory. The Lakers had their way with Houston last round, but Harden was pretty much still able to get his. Will Murray be able to do the same against the likes of Rajon Rondo and Danny Green? It’s worth noting that in the regular season matchups between these squads, Murray was the most effective Nugget on the floor, but that was a very different Nuggets squad. If Denver hopes to pull off the upset, Murray will have to continue being a 30point scorer.
Who Has The X-Factor?
At this point we are all very aware of what AD and LeBron bring to the floor. Same can be said for Jamal Murray and The Joker. Which team is going to have that third guy come up big? Will Michael Porter Jr. continue rebounding and scoring at the rate everyone hoped he could achieve? Will Playoff Rando continue to hang around? Maybe Kyle Kuzma will show more than flashes of greatness? Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, and Paul Milsap all got hot at different points, can that continue? Lastly, will Will Barton make it back onto the floor before the end of the series? Whichever team answers yes to these questions will be in a better position to advance.
Los Angeles Defense
I’ve alluded to it in some of the other points here, but the Los Angeles Lakers have been the best defensive team in basketball practically all season, and certainly in the Playoffs. The biggest question the Nuggets will have to answer is, “Can we score enough points?”
Who’s Going To Defend LeBron?
There’s no one on the Nuggets squad that matches up favorably with the greatest player on the planet. And the King is motivated. This is going to be a problem for Denver, and they’ll have to figure out a way to mitigate it, because I don’t think it’s actually solvable for them.
Once again, my head is saying one thing and my heart is saying another. The smart bet is that the LA Lakers will be making a trip to the NBA Finals. But these Nuggets do not know how to lose when their backs are against the wall. So if the Lakers find themselves up 3-1, they might just be asking for the Nuggets to win in 7, even if LeBron has never blown a 3-1 lead. But… I don’t think that happens this time.
Lakers in 6.
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