At last, the Western Conference Finals are upon us.
The Denver Nuggets completed their historic comeback with a Game 7 victory over the LA Clippers to earn a postseason date with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been resting since eliminating the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
It's title or bust for the top-seeded Lakers, while the Nuggets seem to perform at their best when counted out; this sounds like the recipe for an entertaining series.
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All times Eastern.
- Game 1 - Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m.
- Game 2 - Sunday, Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m.
- Game 3 - Tuesday, Sept. 22, 9 p.m.
- Game 4 - Thursday, Sept. 24, 9 p.m.
- Game 5 (if necessary) - Saturday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m.
- Game 6 (if necessary) - Monday, Sept. 28, TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - Wednesday, Sept. 30, TBD
Result: Lakers won 3-1
Best game: Feb. 12, 2020 - Lakers 120, Nuggets 116 (OT)
Best performance: LeBron James (Feb. 12) - 32 points (15-29 FG), 14 assists, 12 rebounds
Although Los Angeles has won the season series 3-1, the Nuggets-Lakers matchups during the 2019-20 season have been quite competitive. Only one game was decided by nine points or more, which was a 24-point Nuggets win at Staples Center, with LeBron James not suiting up for the Lakers.
Among the other three competitive games, which were decided by a combined margin of 16 points, the best was an overtime contest in February in Denver.
LeBron posted his 12th triple-double of the season with 32 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds while Anthony Davis scored seven of his 33 points in the extra session to the lead the Lakers to the road win in their final game before the All-Star break.
For the Nuggets, six players finished in double figures led by Jamal Murray's 32 points and Nikola Jokic's all-round game of 22 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and three steals.
The next best game between two teams came in the bubble and was decided in the final seconds of regulation. With their starters playing limited minutes, Denver had eight players finish in double figures and shot 45-77 (58.4%) from the field but the Lakers were led to victory courtesy of Kyle Kuzma's game-winning three over Bol Bol.
The shot left only 0.4 seconds on the clock, which the Nuggets unable to get a clean look at the basket. Kuzma finished the game with 25 points in 33 minutes on 11-of-16 shooting from the field. LeBron and AD combined for 56 points and they needed every one of them as the Nuggets were almost running away with this one late, even with their second unit.
The final noteworthy matchup was actually the first one played between the two, back on Dec. 4th. It was a game that the Lakers ran away with an 8-0 run over the final 2:08 of the game, prior to which it was very much competitive at 97-96.
James and Davis combined for 50 while the Lakers' bench contributed 42. For Denver, Murray and Jokic were the stars. The Canadian guard scored a team-high 22 points while the Serbian center did a lit bit of everything with 13 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and three steals.
Key Storyline: Do the Nuggets have any magic left?
After overcoming the odds to defeat the Clippers, who were highly favoured in the series, the Nuggets again play the underdog role as they move on to face the Lakers.
Through two rounds, it's been highly-publicized that this Nuggets team performs at its best when their backs are against the wall and they are essentially counted out. In facing a Los Angeles team that enters the Western Conference Finals with six days rest, while it is a two-day turnaround for Denver.
The question is, will the Nuggets continue to beat the odds?
The Lakers have looked like every bit of a title contender through two rounds, dropping Game 1 of each series before ringing off four consecutive wins over the Rockets and Trail Blazers, respectively. Conversely, the Nuggets have won each of their first two series after splitting the first two games before falling into a 3-1 series deficit.
At least each team has been consistent.
As LeBron James said following the team's Game 5 win over the Rockets, this Lakers team is finding their stride at the best possible time. With LeBron on a mission for ring No. 4, Denver will have to come with a heightened level of intensity from the jump.
With the amount of energy exerted and emotions poured into the 3-1 come back over the Clippers, the Nuggets may not have enough left in the reserve to stop the duo of LeBron and AD.
But the first two rounds have taught us to not count this team out.
Players to Watch
Harris has been an impact player since getting back to action in Game 6 of the opening round.
Head coach Mike Malone has re-inserted Harris into the starting lineup, where he has made plays on both ends of the floor, most notably on the defensive end. Should he continue to work off the rust to have an even greater impact, Denver becomes a much more dynamic team.
Through two rounds, Kuzma has appeared to really be flourishing in his role as the Lakers' third guy, averaging 11.0 points on 45.1% shooting off the bench.
More impressive than Kuzma's scoring is his development on the defensive end, as this postseason, the Lakers boast a defensive rating of 102.5 with Kuzma on the court, a slight improvement from the 105.1 with him off the court.
His continuing to strive as the sixth man will be huge for the Lakers.
Michael Porter Jr.
The talented rookie has had some bright spots this postseason, including a big 3-pointer in Denver's Game 5 win over the LA Clippers and a 15-point performance in a first-round win over Utah.
As one of the Nuggets' most gifted players, Porter serves as an X-Factor for the team.
Playoff Rondo has been in full effect, averaging 10.6 points, 7.0 assists, and 4.6 rebounds in the second round against the Rockets, including a 21-point, nine-assist performance in Game 3.
As a playmaker and primary ballhandler, Rondo unlocks so much of this team's potential. His ability to create will be paramount to success against the Nuggets.
Picks and Predictions
Gilbert McGregor: Lakers in six
Benyam Kidane: Lakers in six
Yash Matange: Lakers in seven
Alex Novick: Nuggets in 7
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