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NBA Western Conference Finals: Preview

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NBA Western Conference Finals: Preview

Before the playoffs started everyone was excited about the clash of LA. Well, the Lakers were certainly ready for it, but the Clippers decided to go home early by blowing 3-1 series lead to Denver Nuggets.

Nobody expected the Denver Nuggets to be here. Their coaches and players will say they did, but they were pretty much alone on that island.

After two dramatic comebacks from 3-1 down in a series, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets have earned their shot at the big dog, LeBron and the Lakers. It’s the Western Conference Finals, and while maybe not the one everyone expected, it is an interesting one nonetheless.

 

What to watch out for?

Biggest mismatches

The safe assumption is Jokic and Davis will cancel each other out; both are skilled big men who do their damage differently yet their impact is the same level — severe. The obvious problem for the Nuggets is LeBron and for the Lakers it’s Murray. Neither team has a logical defensive answer for either.

Denver will offer Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant and in some instances maybe Michael Porter Jr., but none are known for being shutdown defenders. Meanwhile, the Lakers will hope ageing Rajon Rondo can negate some of Murray’s quickness. Both are tall orders; LeBron is averaging nearly a triple-double in the playoffs and remains at peak form, while Murray has a pair of 50-pieces and is using this postseason to gradually grow into a superstar.

Nuggets defense in transition

The pace is something to watch this series. No team added more points per 100 possessions through a transition this season than the Lakers, and the Lakers have started a higher percentage of their offence in transition than any other team in the playoffs. Denver has been an improved half court defence this postseason, but their transition defence is the worst of any of the teams left in the dance.

Despite the odd Jokic American football outlet pass (a true thing of beauty), Denver wants to slow the game down. If the Lakers get stops then fast buckets going the other way — with LeBron leading the break like a freight train —the Nuggets will struggle to keep up on the scoreboard.

 

Michael Porter Jr.

The series will demand a bonus player from either team to surface and deliver in at least a few games. The logical candidate for the Lakers is Kyle Kuzma, but he’s been mild overall and averaging just 11 points. There will be great interest, however, in Porter, whose best attribute is that he doesn’t appear awed by the situation despite being in his first true season.

Porter brings size and shooting range to the mix and also the confidence to insert himself in fourth-quarter moments. The Nuggets are already drawing plays for Porter; is he able to develop enough faith in coach Mike Malone to be on the floor when it counts? That will determine his worth in this series.

 

Lakers and their 3-pointers

This was a very big concern early in the playoffs, yet the Lakers stabilized and therefore rolled through the first two rounds after first-game stumbles. That’s fine … but it’s still their main weakness and now they’ll see a Nuggets’ team that offers better defenders than the Blazers or Rockets. The Nuggets rotate well and bring reinforcements off the bench in case of foul trouble. If the Nuggets can play LeBron and AD straight-up on several possessions and keep the Lakers shooters such as Danny Green covered, that might create suspense in the series. It’s really their best strategy.

 

Battle in the paint

If there is one stat to track this series, points in the paint — or, better yet, shots at the rim — is it.

The postseason Lakers have been in attack mode: Los Angeles has taken a higher percentage of its shots at the rim than any team in the playoffs. By far. Denver allows shots at the rim in the playoffs but has done a better job contesting (teams shoot 63% against Denver in the restricted area in the playoffs, which is about the league average). However, the Nuggets have not had to face a team yet that attacks the rim with finishers like LeBron and Davis.

Go back and watch the regular-season meetings between these teams, and the Lakers owned the Nuggets at the rim. Denver has to keep the Lakers out of the paint. It’s just not that easy to do.



We hope you enjoyed the article ‘NBA Western Conference Finals: Preview.’ Who do you think will win the first game of the western conference finals? Let us know!

 

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