Five Key Questions In The Denver Nuggets Vs. Los Angeles Lakers Playoff Rematch

In a reunion of final yr’s Western Convention Finals groups, the second-seed Denver Nuggets led by Nikola Jokic will face LeBron James’ seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers within the first spherical of the NBA playoffs, as Denver begins the hunt to defend their 2023 championship, the franchise’s first ever.

Denver drew the Lakers after Los Angeles, who initially completed eighth within the West, defeated the seventh-place New Orleans Pelicans within the play-in match to safe the seventh playoff seed. This would be the third time in 5 years the 2 groups can have matched up within the postseason, and whereas due partly to that reality they’re deeply conversant in one another, some vital variations make this, as Nuggets head coach Michael Malone known as it after a latest apply, “a unique sequence.”

“Guys are coming off a 57-win season, and we perceive what we now have in entrance of us,” Malone mentioned. “And I believe the largest problem is, all people retains speaking about how we’ve crushed them eight video games in a row, and as I advised our guys at this time, that doesn’t imply something.”

“This can be a completely different workforce, a unique sequence, and it is going to be a hell of a problem to beat the Lakers once more within the playoffs,” Malone added.

The eight consecutive Nuggets wins over the Lakers which Michael Malone referred to increase again over 15 months in the past to January 9, 2023, when Denver beat L.A. of their closing common season matchup final yr, and contains the Nuggets’ four-win sweep within the convention finals, and three-win sweep of this season’s sequence. Moreover, the Lakers haven’t crushed Denver on their dwelling court docket at Ball Area in over a full two years.

However regardless that this latest dominance may appear to point that the Nuggets have L.A.’s quantity, the present incarnation of the Lakers is arguably their strongest going into the playoffs because the 2020 bubble. Because the mid-February All-Star break, the Lakers have had the league’s Twelfth-best internet score at plus-3.6 factors per 100 possessions, per Cleansing the Glass, together with the fourth-best offense at 119.7. And with one of many biggest gamers of all time in LeBron James, alongside Anthony Davis, one other a number of All-NBA participant, they aren’t a workforce to be taken evenly.

Though the betting odds closely favor the Nuggets (-350) over the Lakers (+275), the problem Malone cited may be very actual, and Denver successful is much from a foregone conclusion. So what would be the keys for the Nuggets to as soon as once more defeat their most outstanding foe within the postseason? Right here we have a look at 5 questions across the sequence, the solutions to which simply would possibly tilt the stability.

Can the Lakers decelerate the “dynamic duo” of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and their lethal two-man sport?

Maybe probably the most definitive space of dominance over the Lakers which the Nuggets have established over their latest matchups is L.A.’s seeming lack of ability to each to mitigate Denver’s offensive efficiency after they have each Jokic and Murray on the ground and to seek out methods to attain on the different finish.

In response to knowledge from PBP Stats, Denver has completely obliterated the Lakers throughout the minutes they’ve performed towards them with Murray and Jokic sharing the ground collectively over their final eight video games, averaging a blistering internet score of plus-14.3 factors per 100 possessions (by means of comparability, the Boston Celtics’ plus-11.3 was the league’s highest internet score this common season).

The Lakers have basically thrown their total kitchen sink at particularly Jokic, beginning off in final yr’s playoffs with Davis guarding him, then shortly switching to the “Rui Hachimura adjustment” which proved to be much less efficient than hoped, and in the end throwing no matter they might on the wall, together with James (who arguably guarded Jokic higher than any of his different teammates), however to little avail.

If L.A. can’t discover a solution to a minimum of restrict the harm Murray and Jokic inflict, not one of the different swing elements might find yourself mattering a lot, and Denver might be busting out brooms.

Will LeBron James (and Anthony Davis) maintain turning again the clock?

LeBron James has performed a league-high (and astonishing) 56,597 whole profession minutes amongst lively gamers, greater than 10,000 greater than Chris Paul at second. And though he at this level virtually appears to be extra Terminator than human, the grind and fatigue that comes with enjoying deeper into the playoffs at a much more intense degree does increase the query of whether or not he can stave off a dropoff in efficiency.

Anthony Davis, for his half, is thirty first amongst lively participant profession minutes at 25,409, however the bigger concern than his mileage is the damage and tear he’s endured by way of a sequence of accidents all through his time within the NBA.

This units up a doubtlessly worrisome state of affairs for the Lakers, who nearly definitely can’t survive this sequence with out each of their high stars enjoying at or close to their ceiling, but when they’ll energy by way of and keep wholesome, they are going to stand a far larger likelihood of constructing it a aggressive matchup.

Can Christian Braun, Reggie Jackson and Peyton Watson successfully exchange the manufacturing and affect of Denver’s departed free brokers Bruce Brown and Jeff Inexperienced?

Coming off the bench final season, Bruce Brown was one of many league’s greatest free company acquisitions when the Nuggets signed him over the offseason, and was a completely essential contributor to their title success. Veteran journeyman Jeff Inexperienced, although having his ups and downs all through the common season, additionally proved to be a useful a part of Denver’s rotation.

Now-sophomore Christian Braun additionally made his mark as a rookie, particularly within the Nuggets’ Finals sequence, however performed an general extra restricted function than Denver will want from him this yr. Moreover, Jackson has changed Brown as backup level guard, and Peyton Watson is successfully enjoying within the vacuum of minutes opened up by Inexperienced’s departure.

The flip aspect of the deadly Jokic-Murray combo cited above is the Nuggets having to outlive the minutes when Jokic is off the court docket. Jackson has been an essential producer for Denver this season, particularly with Jamal Murray lacking 23 video games, however has been inconsistent. And Braun and Watson are nonetheless very younger and largely unproven, and the Nuggets are making an enormous gamble on them to ship in essential, high-leverage playoff video games.

If general these bench gamers may be on the constructive, or a minimum of impartial aspect of the ledger fairly than being liabilities, it would give Denver an amazing increase in the direction of successful the sequence.

How effectively will each groups’ “different” starters help the efforts of their respective star duos?

For Denver, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the three supporting starters who play alongside and again up their Jokic and Murray star duo. For the Lakers, it’s Hachimura, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell. Each groups want consistency and effectivity, in addition to efficient protection, from these secondary solid members.

Porter and Russell are the third-leading scorers for his or her respective groups, and both workforce might be in bother in the event that they don’t get enough manufacturing from them. And gamers like Gordon, Caldwell-Pope and Hachimura might be downright essential on protection, not solely in executing their very own assignments, however within the domino impact of that boosting the offensive video games of their star teammates from the possibly negatively-impacting grind of doing the identical.

If both workforce’s foremost function gamers both step up bigtime or fail to take action, it would have a really life like potential of swinging the complete sequence.

Which workforce will win extra “battles of the margins” in areas like paint scoring, rebounding, turnovers and free throw fee?

Within the Denver-Los Angeles matchup in final yr’s playoffs, it was a combined bag by way of which workforce had which benefits in areas comparable to turnovers, factors off turnovers, rebounds, paint factors and free throw makes an attempt, and if that occurs once more – or if alternately one workforce wins nearly all of these battles-within-battles, it may attain a tipping level that sways the sequence.

Because the chart above exhibits, Denver had a substantial benefit over the Lakers in final yr’s playoffs in rebounding, together with offensive rebound proportion, factors off turnovers (regardless of a minimal turnover proportion distinction), and quick break factors.

L.A., however, beat the Nuggets pretty handily in outright free throws and free throw fee (one thing the Lakers have come to be infamous for), in addition to factors within the paint and bench factors.

These respective benefits for each groups in all probability kind of balanced out in that WCF sequence, with Denver’s extra environment friendly capturing (they’d an efficient area aim proportion of 57.5% to the Lakers’ 53.1%) enjoying a big half in tipping the scales. However margins may be slim within the playoffs, and both workforce checking extra of those containers would closely increase their possibilities of surviving the primary spherical.