The NBA Playoffs are winding down as we reach the Western Conference Finals, which will begin after the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have already played two games. This matchup displays two teams who took very different paths to the conference finals in the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nuggets have reached the conference finals in one of the most incredible runs we have ever seen in the history of the NBA. The Nuggets entered the playoffs as the third seed, following a season where they blew a 17-point lead at home in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The 2020 playoffs looked to provide Nuggets’ fans with further disappointment as they trailed the banged-up Utah Jazz 3-1 with terrible perimeter defense and costly cold-shooting slumps. However, Jamal Murray got hot and after forcing a Game 7, the Nuggets advanced in an ugly 80-78 victory over the Jazz.
They took on the Los Angeles Clippers, a championship front runner led by the consensus best player in the NBA in defending NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Once again, they trailed in the series 3-1 and in Game 5, they trailed by 16 points. They rallied to win 111-105 and in Game 6, they trailed by 19 points and won 111-98. In Game 7, they fell behind by 12 in the first half, but in the second half, they went on a 35-13 run to seal the game, winning 104-89.
The Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to comeback from two 3-1 deficits and win the series and only the third team in the major American sports to do it (1985 Kansas City Royals and 2003 Minnesota Wild). With this victory, the Nuggets reached their third conference finals in team history (1985 and 2009).
They are hoping third time is a charm to get to their first ever NBA Finals as they face the team which denied them in their two previous attempts, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers have not reached the Western Conference Finals in the same manner the Nuggets did. Instead of having to play many elimination games to survive and advance, the Lakers dominated their opponents in the Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets respectively. After losing both Game 1s, the Lakers crushed their opposition the rest of the series, going a combined 8-0 with a margin of victory totaling 111 points (13.8 per game).
Since the start of the season, most were expecting a battle between the Los Angeles teams in the Western Conference Finals, especially during the games in the bubble. Due to the Nuggets’ incredible comeback, it will not happen in 2020.
The Nuggets got to the conference finals on the back of their superstar duo in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Murray went off when the team needed him most, hitting a playoff-high 53 three-pointers on 49% shooting to go with 27.1 points per game (PPG). Equally as important has been the great all-around play of Jokic, who has left no doubt who the best center in the game is. He is averaging 25.4 PPG, 10.8 rebounds per game (RPG) and 6.0 assists per game (APG). These contributions have set up other teammates to score and carry the team through their adversity.
The Nuggets match up well against the Lakers as Los Angeles lacks true shooters compared to other great teams and Jokic is a force inside the paint the Lakers have not seen in their first two series in the NBA Playoffs. The problem is the Lakers have possibly the two best players left in these playoffs in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Their stat lines speak for themselves as LeBron is averaging 26.6 PPG, 10.3 PRG and 8.8 APG while Davis averages 27.6 PPG and 10.8 RPG. These numbers are incredible, and their talent and leadership is why the Lakers are the top seed in the Western Conference.
I believe this series is reaching seven games. The battle between these two teams will be a fun one to watch and while the Nuggets’ have been arguably the story of the bubble, James will be too good for the Nuggets to overcome and the Lakers will squeak by to the finals.
Prediction: Lakers in 7