Fresh off their Cinderella semifinals 1–3 comeback against the Clippers, it’s Jamal and the Joker and the Denver Nuggets versus the King and the Brow and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in the Bubble.
Can the underdog Nuggets continue their playoff heroics against a heavily favored powerhouse Lakers team with the second-ranked offensive rating, third-ranked defensive rating, and top-ranked net rating in the playoffs? What are the chances 23-year old Jamal Murray and 25-year old Nikola Jokic can lead the Nuggets to a third straight playoff series upset over 33-year old LeBron James and 27-year old Anthony Davis and the Lakers?
The answer is slim and none. The Lakers will end Denver’s fairy tale story and burst the Cinderella Nuggets’ bubble like the Blazers and Rockets in five games with the odds of the series going six about the same as a sweep. Great as the Nuggets have played, the rested Lakers have the superior stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the defensive weapons to stop Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, and the team chemistry the Clippers lacked.
No disrespect but the Lakers are not the overachieving Thunder or choke prone Clippers. Defensively, the Lakers have the speed and quickness to chase 3-point shooters off the line and the shot blockers to protect the rim. Offensively, they have two superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, whom the Nuggets have no answer to defend, and a deep and talented veteran roster that’s not going to crumble and fold like the Clippers.
While Los Angeles and Denver both elevated their games in the playoffs, the Lakers won three of the four regular season games the teams played, only losing to the Nuggets in the one game where LeBron James did not play. Because their one win over the Lakers was a 128–104 blowout, the Nuggets ended up with the +3.2 net rating and a +2.0 plus/minus against the Lakers for the regular season despite losing three out of four games played.
The teams’ performances in the bubble in the playoffs are more telling. The Lakers have an 8–2 record with a second-ranked 114.4 offensive rating, a third-ranked 105.4 defensive rating, and a top-ranked 9.0 net rating. Because of their two seven-game comeback series, the Nuggets have an unremarkable 8–6 record with a fifth-ranked 112.5 offensive rating, an eleventh-ranked 114.0 defensive rating, and a ninth-ranked -1.5 net rating.
Therein lies the Nuggets’ challenge. While their fifth-ranked offense might be able to score on the Lakers third-ranked defense, their eleventh-ranked defense will struggle mightily to stop the Lakers second-ranked offense? The odds the Lakers will somehow choke like the overachieving Thunder or overrated Clippers is not likely with LeBron James smelling the roses and GOAT and sensing an opportunity to win his fourth NBA championship.
With six days rest and three days to prepare, Frank Vogel and the Los Angeles Lakers should be locked and loaded for the Denver Nuggets and determined to avoid a Game 1 loss in the Western Conference Finals.