The day is finally here.
The Denver Nuggets are in the Western Conference Finals, facing the Los Angeles Lakers for the seventh time in their playoff history, hoping to shock the world and eliminate another championship favorite from the playoff mix. Denver’s journey to this moment was fraught with peril, stepping so close to the end of elimination that when they came back to safety, they had done what no team has ever done before by complete multiple 3-1 playoff series comebacks in the same season.
But now, the journey grows even more difficult. The Lakers were the top seed in the Western Conference for a reason. Despite having less perceived talent than the Los Angeles Clippers, the talent on the Lakers became an actual team. That cohesiveness surrounding elite players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis has turned the Lakers into the championship favorite.
To break down the series, the Denver Stiffs staff made some predictions about the Nuggets, the Lakers, how they match up against each other, and who they believe will advance when it’s all said and done.
The Denver Stiffs staff:
- Brandon Ewing - Senior Writer
- Daniel Lewis - Writer and Contributor
- Evan Fiala - Writer and Contributor
- Gage Bridgford - Writer and Contributor
- Gordon Gross - Senior Writer
- Jena Garcia - Social Media Director
- Jeremy Poley - Social Media Coordinator
- Kayla Osby - Writer and Contributor
- Nick Hertzog - Writer and Contributor
- Quenton Albertie - Writer and Contributor
- Reid Howard - Lead Moderator
- Ryan Blackburn - Site Manager
- Zach Mikash - Deputy Site Manager
Most Valuable Player
Analysis: LeBron James. Jerami Grant will be once again tasked with defending one of the very best players on earth and there’s hope he can repeat his semifinals performance but defending LeBron in the playoffs might be the most difficult thing there is to do in the NBA. I expect James to be extremely motivated to get his next ring and despite Jerami’s prowess it’s hard to imagine him stopping one of the greatest players to ever play the game. We’ve seen LeBron carry a team on his back in the conference finals before and there’s a good chance we will see it again.
- Anonymous (@WeHaveNoIdea)
Analysis: Jokic carved up the Clippers’ bigs, controlling the game in every facet. He will have a more difficult challenge when Anthony Davis guards him. AD is quick enough to recover on the pick and roll and agile enough to switch onto Murray. If Anthony Davis and a rotation of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard frustrate Jokic in man coverage, then everything gets tighter for Murray and the Nuggets’ other shooters and slashers. But if Jokic can win his one-on-one matchups and force double teams or get AD in foul trouble, L.A. will have no answer on the perimeter.
- Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN)
Analysis: I think it’s going to be Jerami Grant. We know what we expect from the stars, but the play of the guys around them is going to be the difference maker. I expect to see Jerami Grant guarding LeBron James and Anthony Davis throughout this series. When that happens, he has to give the team positive defensive minutes. On offense, they need him to maintain his offensive work. He doesn’t need to average 15+ points, but he has to continue to provide floor spacing and cutting next to Jokic and Murray.
- Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL)
Analysis: Jamal Murray is going to drop 52 points in one game and it’s going to be one of the most glorious experiences in Nuggets history. I won’t predict what game it’s going to happen in, but it’s going to happen when the Nuggets need Murray to do it most. Potentially in a pivotal Game 5 or 6, which is what Murray did in the Utah series. No matter when it happens, The Blue Arrow will go off for 50+ points in at least one game this series and you can take that to the bank.
- Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717)
Analysis: I will take Alex Caruso here. This could have gone plenty of different ways, but I just really like what Caruso brings this Lakers team off the bench. Caruso played a ton in the past two series and I expect for of the same against the Nuggets. Denver will be able to counter with Monte Morris off the bench, which should present a fun matchup between he and Caruso.
- Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717)
Nuggets bench performance
Analysis: Michael Porter Jr. is the easy and only right answer here. The Lakers just don’t have anyone that can guard him off the bench, and you know he is going to have one of those games where he goes off. MPJ was close to going off a number of times in the Clippers series and the Lakers present a much better matchup for him. Don’t be surprised if Porter wins the Nuggets a game off the bench, if not multiple.
- Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717)
Analysis: This will be the ultimate proving ground for the Denver Nuggets as an organization from the top down. After staging two 3-1 comebacks in each of the previous matchups with the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, the Nuggets are being rewarded with a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. This is the matchup that historically given the Nuggets the most trouble as the Nuggets are 0-6 against the Lakers in their previous playoff encounters. This year will be no different as the Lakers have the biggest superstar in the NBA in LeBron James and traded for a generational talent in Anthony Davis. They are the bright lights organization with all of the drama, attention, and prestige that Nuggets have never had. Not even this season.
But the Nuggets are built differently this season. They grind out wins behind their two superstars in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. The organization is built, not bought. Nuggets teammates have faced extreme adversity, stood on the brink of defeat before experiencing greatness, and they’ve done it all together. There’s just something about this team that is legitimately special, and after the performances they’ve put together in the first two rounds, it would be unwise to bet against them, regardless of matchup disadvantages or a perceived talent disparity.
So, I’m not going to bet against them. I’m with them until the end. Nuggets in 7.
- Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn)