Despite the Lakers’ strong run to make it to the West Final, the Nuggets have a team that could give them a world of trouble.
With the Denver Nuggets shockingly defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 on Tuesday, the Nuggets will go on to play the first-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Final.
This will be the first time the two teams go head-to-head since 2009. In 2009, the Lakers won the series 4-2 thanks to the brilliance of Kobe Bryant as he led the Lakers in scoring. Will a similar story of victory unfold for the Lakers, or will the Nuggets take the NBA Western Conference Finals? Let’s take a look at the player lineup.
Anthony Davis and LeBron James have recently been named All-NBA first team and are the first superstar duo to be named in an All-NBA first team together since Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash in the 2006-07 season. Davis and James, along with the rest of the team, have been dominating the defensive end during these playoffs and are continuing to add onto their impressive regular-season resume.
They are currently leading in field goal efficiency, blocks and assists during these playoffs. They are top two in rebounds and points and top three in steals. Yet, the leader of this LA team is James.
The three-time champion has been dominating both sides of the court this entire season and has arguably been better in the playoffs. He is leading his team in assists as he is grabbing close to nine boards per game. This isn’t a surprise, as he was the assist leader throughout the regular season. The rest of his stat sheet shows 26.6 points per game, 10 rebounds per game and is shooting 55 percent from the field.
His age isn’t stopping him either. He hasn’t shown any signs of aging, hinting at his 16 All-NBA selections. This is a total that beats out Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
And if that’s not enough, the Lakers have seen great production from Davis since wearing that purple and gold.
After his trade to the Lakers, many questioned if they were giving up too much to acquire the big man with a hopeful championship run in mind. In the trade, LA gave up Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and three future first-round picks, including the fourth pick of last year’s draft. Now that the Lakers have made it this far, however, it seems like the trade has been a major success.
Davis has been remarkable, leading the Lakers in points, rebounds and blocks throughout the playoffs. Despite some playoff appearances with the Pelicans, this is the first time he’s had a second All-Star by his side and it has done wonders for his game. Davis has been connecting everywhere, especially mid-range, despite his initial struggles in the bubble. He ranks third in two-point field goals made league-wide. He’s been a huge key to the Laker’s successful playoff run, and some might argue he’s been the better of the duo so far.
Rajon Rondo also deserves credit, as he has only excelled since returning from injury. He has risen to the occasion and has looked like the Lakers’ third-best player. Rondo has been leading the Lakers in steals, ranks second in assists, third in rebounds and fourth in points. While Rondo has only played five games in the playoffs so far, he has proven that he’s an elite player and still deserves to be recognized by his well-known mantra of “playoff Rondo.”
Despite the talent of the Lakers, the Nuggets have built a reputation as a team that fails to surrender. They were down 3-1 to the Jazz. They were down 3-1 to the Clippers. Yet both series ended with a Game 7 victory for Denver.
This isn’t only true in series games, but in individual games as well. The Nuggets were down 16 in Game 5, 19 in Game 6 and 12 in Game 7, yet they always found a way to comeback and steal the win.
The Nuggets will need continued success from their two stars if they want to reach the Finals: Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
Murray, despite not getting an All-NBA nod, has at times looked like the leader of his team throughout the playoffs.
Murray was absolutely phenomenal during the Jazz series. He scored 50 points in a Game 4 loss that gave Utah a 3-1 series lead. Murray then went on to score 42 points in a Game 5 win, followed by another 50 point performance in Game 6 to tie the series. Murray ended up averaging 31.6 points per game, shooting 55 percent from the field, including 53.3 percent from three-point range and 92 percent from the charity stripe.
Many believed that this series was his start to becoming an All-Star next season. He didn’t lose his touch against the Clippers either, and although Jokic appeared to be the leader for Denver on both sides of the court during that Clippers series, Murray, statistically, was right behind him. Currently, he is leading the league in minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted and three-point field goals this postseason. He is also leading his team in points and assists, averaging 27.1 points per game, five rebounds per game and 6.4 assists per game while maintaining a 50.2 percent from the field.
Surely, though, Jokic has been the heart of this Nuggets team throughout this entire season.
While Murray was the star of the Jazz series, Jokic played phenomenally as well, averaging 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. But Jokic was the captain of the ship in the Clippers series, leading his team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. Jokic was even recently named All-NBA second team, making it his second All-NBA selection.
With the way Jokic dominated the Clippers, the Lakers are most likely going to give more minutes to Dwight Howard and Javale McGee, two guys that didn’t play much against the Rockets.
With the Nuggets now facing the Lakers, the Nuggets have to rely on Jokic and Murray to keep shooting the ball at an efficient rate and create passing opportunities. And if Jokic can find similar success in the paint against the Lakers, the Nuggets could shock the basketball community yet again. However, with Davis’ ability to protect the rim, the Serbian big man will likely have a more difficult time in taking control of contests on a consistent basis.
So, who will take the NBA Western Conference Finals? It’s all about who shows up.