Entering the postseason, both teams have been severely underestimated.
Although the Nuggets finished first in the Western Conference with a 53-29 record, they flew under the radar before being dismantled. Phoenix Suns In the second round of the playoffs, with some believing their usual success in the season was a fluke due to other teams suffering from injuries or needing more time to drop back after reshuffling their rosters.
That was refuted by the Nuggets.
Look no further than Jokic’s 53-point performance against the Suns in Game 4 or five triple-doubles in the postseason. Then there Jamal Murraywho went from averaging 20 points this season to scoring at least 30 points in four games in these playoffs.
For the Lakers, no one thought they would be in this position just a few months ago when they were 13th in the West. But they revamped their roster, adding six new players before the trade deadline. They went on to fight their way to the seventh seed. And now, with both James and Davis healthy, they are real contenders for the title.
Here are the five story lines you need to know about the series.
1. LeBron James On a mission to win his fifth championship
James has always made it clear how much he wants to return to the center to compete for another title.
After the Lakers missed the playoffs last season, he tweeted this past April, “I can’t/will never miss a post season again in my career! This—hurt.”
Then during All-Star weekend this year, with the Lakers’ postseason hopes in jeopardy, James called the extended run “the 23rd most important game of my regular season career.”
Only 13 NBA players have won five rings, a list that includes Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Magic Johnson.
If James can carry the Lakers all the way this season, that means he will be just one ring shy of his idol, Michael Jordan, one of four players to win six rings.
2. Nikola Jokic He set his sights on the championship this season – not the MVP
After Jokic’s stellar season, some were upset that he didn’t win his third straight MVP award.
Jokic was not among them.
When asked in March what it meant to him to become the fourth player in league history to win three in a row, Jokic replied, “I don’t know. It doesn’t mean anything special. I’m just trying to compete, to win games.”
more than before Joel Embiid Named MVP earlier this month, Jokic said he had “no interest” in the ad, adding, “I hope it’s a sunny day, so I can be in the pool.”
Winning a championship is another story.
Jokic, who was selected by the Nuggets as the 41st overall pick in the 2014 draft, has never made it to the NBA Finals and the Nuggets’ playoff shortcomings have led to some questioning, despite MVP honors.
During back-to-back MVPs, the Nuggets have never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. Now, he finally has a chance to win the hardware he really cares about: the Larry O’Brien Cup.
the problem? A guy named LeBron has been to the Finals 10 times during his 20-season career.
3. Anthony Davis Against Nikola Jokic… This should be interesting
The most intriguing encounters in the series are Davis and Jokic, two big guys with very different strengths.
Jokic has made himself nearly unstoppable on offensive end. He has soft touch, brute force and incredible passing skills. In this postseason, he averaged 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 9.7 assists. his weakness? defense.
Meanwhile, defense is Davis’ bread and butter, especially in the postseason. Davis averaged fewer points in these playoffs than he did during the Lakers’ championship in 2020 (21.2 points compared to 27.7), but he averaged more rebounds (14.1 compared to 9.7) and blocks (3.3 compared to by 1.4).
Davis will have his hands full against Jokic, who Kevin Durant He said “it will go down as one of the all-time great touchdown centers in basketball” after the Nuggets eliminated the Suns in six games.
But fortunately for Davis, he doesn’t have to guard Jokic and hold the Lakers on the offensive end for his team to succeed. In fact, this postseason, four Lakers players average at least 15 points a game: James (23.4 points), Davis, Angelo Russell (15.7 points) f Austin Reeves (15.4 points).
For Jokic, the challenge will be dealing with Davies’ athleticism on both ends of the field. For Davis, the challenge will be stopping the seemingly unstoppable man on the attacking end.
4. This is a rematch of the Western Bubble Conference Finals. Is this important?
The Lakers and Nuggets met in the 2020 Western Conference Finals in Orlando, but not much can be learned from this meeting.
The Lakers are a very different team, bringing back just two players from their 2020 championship roster: James and Davis.
Nuggets have more continuity, Jokic, Murray, return Michael Porter Jr. and trainer Michael Malone.
Nuggets are now more experienced and tougher.
And the Lakers are practically unrecognizable, even their stars change roles. (James was the team’s starting point guard in 2020, and now plays primarily forward. And, as mentioned, Davis has been more defensively focused this playoff.)
Meanwhile, the Lakers went on to win their first championship in a decade, defeating Miami Heat in six matches. Miami returned to the Eastern Conference Finals this year, leaving the door open for a rematch in the NBA Finals as well.
5. The resurgence of Jamal Murray
Murray had a legendary bubbling streak, averaging 26.5 points on 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 45.3 percent from outside the arc with two 50-point performances against the Jazz.
Since then, he has had more than one season due to knee surgery.
But Murray again excelled in these playoffs, averaging 25.9 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.2 rebounds. Murray helped take the pressure off Jokic and made the Nuggets a tougher team to guard.
For the Nuggets to beat the Lakers, Murray has to be on top of his game.
Then again, the Lakers defense was so good that they were able to go after it Steve Curry Sometimes in second round series against the defending champions.
Throughout the playoffs, the Lakers have the highest defensive rating in the league (106.5). The Nuggets achieved the highest offensive rating (118.7) during that period.
Let the fun begin.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, Los Angeles Times, Bay Area News Group, and San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @Melissarohlen.
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