One team was expected to be here and another one wasn’t. We were supposed to have the battle of Los Angeles but the Denver Nuggets gladly ruined the party. We should be surprised but, at the same time, we shouldn’t.
The Nuggets get ignored despite the depth on the roster. It’s time for media and fans to stop obsessing over superstar names and focus on roster building. Denver was smart in how they built their roster. Sure they hit on Nikola Jokic but, don’t forget, at one time they had Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. Denver would eventually move Nurkic for Mason Plumlee and a second round pick. With hindsight, the decision looks like an easy one. All-NBA Jokic over injured Nurkic but that wasn’t the case back then. This is what separates good front offices from average ones.
Denver would hit again with Jamal Murray. Denver got Murray when he slid down to the seventh pick. Picks 4, 5, and 6 were Dragen Bender (Phoenix), Kris Dunn (Minnesota) and Buddy Hield (New Orleans). None of those guys are still with the team that drafted them.
Think about that. The Nuggets are led by a second round pick (Jokic) and a player who had three subpar guys chosen in front of him. Front offices are so imp0rtant in the NBA.
So how do they match up with the Lakers?
How to contain Jokic
The Lakers are, shall we say, top heavy. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been everything that they were advertised to be, something the Los Angeles Clippers weren’t. After having to sit Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee against small-ball, three-point happy Houston, they’ll get minutes against this Denver team. Both (along with Anthony Davis) will be important in guarding and occupying Jokic. McGee is better equipped to deal with Jokic at the high-post.
Equally as important is making Jokic work on the other end of the floor. That means Howard, Davis, and McGee must be threats on the offensive boards. They have to find a way to “stress” Jokic out on that end. The Clippers didn’t do that, in part, because they don’t have the size that the Lakers have.
Los Angeles isn’t going to stop Jokic but they can’t let him have too many stress-free minutes on the floor.
Defend for 48 minutes
It’s imperative for the Lakers defense to on top of their game for 48 minutes. If there’s anything we’ve learned about Denver is there’s no deficit too big for them. They continue to run their actions until they can make a sizable run. It’s that type of discipline that makes them hard to guard.
The Lakers can still go through stretches where their offense bogs down without James on the floor. Los Angeles will have to limit the scoring droughts because, as we saw against the Clippers, Denver can flip a scoreboard in a heartbeat.
The teams who has the better “third guy” could win this series. For the Lakers that could be Rajon Rondo or Kyle Kuzma. For the Nuggets, it’s Michael Porter Jr.
The most important thing Rondo brings is getting James off the ball for a while. It takes some pressure off James. Something he needs at this age. You never know what you’re getting for Kuzma. He’ll need to hit the three in this series. Fair or unfair, the Lakers are such a poor three-point shooting team that Kuzma doesn’t have the wiggle room that others might have. You just never know what you’re getting out of Danny Green.
Has anyone benefitted from the bubble more than Porter Jr.? He’s finally staying healthy enough to show what most thought he could do before the series of injuries derailed his college and beginning of the NBA careers. He is a multi-level scorer and can act as a facilitator when he’s on the floor with certain personnel groupings. He can be the biggest wild-card threat to the Lakers.
Prediction: Lakers in 6