Through the playoffs we have seen very entertaining basketball. Lebron James managed to get his team in through the play-in tournament, Kevin Durant joined the Suns and got in the playoffs, and Jayson Tatum has shown his talents. Through these games, we have reached the conference finals, and the contenders for the West Conference are going to be the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
A lot is at stake for both teams here. If Jokic can beat Lebron James it will be interesting to see how the future of the MVP is chosen, as Joel Embiid won it this year, and didn’t make it past the 2nd round. This may change the way we look at who the MVP is. The road to winning the West has been no easy journey for either team. To get to this point both teams have had to face super teams, Such as Kevin Durant and the Suns, or Steve Kerr or the Warriors. While both teams have had to face these teams, we must look at how they got to this point because it is very different on both sides.
The Journey: Lakers
For the Lakers, in the early season, making the playoffs seemed almost impossible as they went 2-10 to start the season with a .2% chance of making it to the playoffs. Before the trade deadline, the team chemistry was rough, and it didn’t seem like the Lakers could find the right line-up to get wins. Not to mention they dealt with a lot of injuries as well. Both Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves both faced some inactivity in the earlier parts of the season causing the Lakers to fall short in their games.
Since the trade deadline, the Lakers improved drastically. Anthony Davis got healthy, Austin Reaves began to gain confidence and evolve as a player, and they dealt with the chemistry issue on their team. Trading Russell Westbrook was the best decision that came from the Lakers. The Lakers finished off the last 12 games with a 9-3 record which secured them a play-in spot. Since then, the Lakers have been a scary team. The Lakers went on to beat the 2nd seed Grizzlies, and managed to get past the Warriors Dynasty. Now they will get to compete against the Nuggets, and they won’t go down without a fight.
The Journey: Nuggets
For the Nuggets, losing in the playoffs last year to the reigning champs didn’t put them down, rather it sparked some motivation for them to win in the playoffs this year. The Nuggets finished this season as the top team in the West, and Jokic was again a runner up for MVP. The Nuggets didn’t deal with the same injuries that the Lakers had to deal with, and their key players have been around. Not to mention the Nuggets didn’t have the need to do anything with the trade deadline, so the team has remained almost identical all season. Jokic has come into this season with something to prove, and after blowing through the Timberwolves 4-1, and shocking people by beating the Suns in 6, the Nuggets are hungry for victory.
Previewing the Series
The Obvious: It’s no surprise that the Nuggets are going to have to look out for Lebron James. This seems like the year for Lebron to get himself a ring and after watching him up against the Warriors you can tell he won’t go down without a fight. He has the most points in NBA history and is battling criticism that he is out of his prime.
In the Game 7 of the Warriors series he put up 30 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds. Whether its points or leadership, Lebron James is the motivation behind this team. It will also be hard for the Nuggets to stop Lebron. While they have been great offensively, they may not have the tools to stop him. James was able to put up points against Dillon Brooks, and his toughest defender Kevon Looney in the playoffs, and will most likely be matched up against Aaron Gordon who is honestly probably the weakest option of the three. If Gordon gets in foul trouble or goes down, its hard to imagine who they have that they can line up against Lebron.
Battle of the Big Man: Whichever team you look at, both teams have their big man secured. For the Lakers you have Davis, and for the Nuggets you have Jokic. Both of these players have high usage on their teams, and where Jokic is successful on offense, Davis does that on defense for the Lakers. Both of these players have different skill sets, making this an interesting matchup.
Jokic acts as a facilitator in the Nuggets offense, which should pull Davis out of the paint if they are matched up against each other. Without Davis out of the paint, and Jokic’s court awareness, we may see some scoring opportunities for some of the other Nuggets players. We did see the Lakers step up their perimeter defense as well when they were up against the Warriors, so if you’re a Lakers fan you may not have to worry if Coach Ham decides to pin someone else up against Jokic, and he decides to let Davis guard the paint. When it comes to pure athleticism Davis is quicker overall, so Jokic has to step up on defense every game of this series.
Who Wants it more? This series is gonna come down to who has the most motivation to win. Both teams have proved that they aren’t going to fail without a fight. For the Lakers they have been on a slow grind to get to this spot, whereas the Nuggets stayed at the top of the West all year long and have earned home court advantage. This win will mean a lot for either team. For Jokic, it proves that he may have been deserving of the MVP this year, and propels him even closer to getting his first ring. For Lebron it proves that he isn’t finished despite the criticism. Looking at the last series the Lakers played in, James proved that the Lakers are a championship team. The Warriors were a better team than the Suns who the Nuggets faced in their last series, so the Lakers may have the fight in them to win this series.
As the Lakers and Nuggets play their first game Tuesday, that may be the tell-tale sign for how the rest of the season goes. Whoever goes on to win this series will go on to have the chance to win the NBA finals, so a lot is at stake here. Be sure to tune in to ESPN on Tuesday, May 16th at 7:30. This is going to be an interesting series.
Photo Credit – AP