The Los Angeles Lakers have surprised everybody with their playoff success. It seems as if they are title bound as well. Nobody anticipated seeing them reach the Western Conference Finals, but now they’re about to earn their respect. They had a tragic start to the season and almost fell out of play-in tournament contention. Fans had excluded them from all title talks, present and future. But they look very dominant at the moment.
Western Conference Finals are set — mark your calendar 🗓 pic.twitter.com/w6j1gDQGps
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 14, 2023
Rob Pelinka and Darvin Ham have proven themselves throughout 82 games. They understood that they needed role players rather than relying on veterans. Russell Westbrook was shipped during the trade deadline. Former Lakers, D’Angelo Russell, and Dennis Schröder were acquired along with backup centers Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. From having one of the worst rosters of the season, LA has emerged as a powerful defensive team as well.
For the Denver Nuggets, it’s been a smooth sail until now. They finished with the best record in the Western Conference and are the only remaining top seed in the playoffs. The Nuggets obliterated the Phoenix Suns, the team that had the best chance of winning the title. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant were on a historic run this postseason but Nikola Jokic put an end to their antics.
Nuggets playoff basketball ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/k9LcmHpgbR
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 13, 2023
Jamal Murray also played a significant role during the series. He averaged 24.8 points and recorded a couple of explosive games on offense. Jokic had three triple-doubles including a 56-point performance that threw the Suns off course. In a rare phenomenon, history repeats itself as all four Conference Finalists from 2020 have reached the stage once again. Needless to say, this series will be very interesting.
Will the Los Angeles Lakers outclass the Denver Nuggets for the second time in the Western Conference Finals?
Both teams have a bit of history between them, but the Los Angeles Lakers have emerged victorious over the Denver Nuggets. In 189 games, the Lakers have won 113 while the Nuggets snatched 76 victories. LA has a 75% win rate against Denver in the playoffs. In both of their latest WCF meets, the Lakers ended up winning the title. One with Kobe Bryant back in 2010 and another with LeBron James a decade later. Denver has never won a playoff series against the Lakers either. They have shared seven playoff series.
last time the Lakers and Nuggets faced each other in the conference finals pic.twitter.com/WVQZPBp7fo
— LakeShowYo (@LakeShowYo) May 14, 2023
LeBron James is the obvious threat to the Nuggets. He has averaged 23.4 points along with 10 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while recording 0.9 steals and 1.3 blocks as well. Anthony Davis has also been great averaging 21.2 points with 14.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 3.3 blocks per game. However, their role players will be vital during the playoffs. D’Lo and Austin Reeves have shot 34.7% and 39.7% respectively from three, a stat that they never had before trading Westbrook. Both players have also been offensively reliable.
The biggest issue for the Lakers is how much more powerful the Nuggets are offensively. All five starters averaging double digits in points. Jokic leads the team with 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game. Murray put up 25.9 points in the playoffs so far backed with 5.2 rebounds 6.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He is their biggest weapon at this point.
Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have also been major backup scorers and defenders. Just like how things were in 2020, the Lakers are still defensively better than the Nuggets. AD’s presence could be challenging for Jokic, which is why the Lakers will have the upper hand.