If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Since January 9th, 2023, the Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers have matched up eight times between the regular season and the playoffs. Over those eight games, the Nuggets have a record of 8-0. The Nuggets lost a couple of rotational pieces from last year’s postseason sweep, while the Lakers have largely the same roster that was here 10 months ago. Since the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs last year, they’ve not stopped talking about the Nuggets both online and as a team.

Now, these two teams are headed towards a first-round matchup that will leave the winner more bruised than they entered in a conference loaded with talent in every spot on the bracket. This Lakers’ team is slightly different from the one Denver played on opening night, but it’s still pretty much the same animal that they’ll be trying to tame. For the Lakers, Denver is the puzzle that they haven’t been able to stop because there is always a new piece that confounds them. 

Winning this series will be just as tough as last year. More than likely, it’s not going to be a sweep. The Lakers have too much firepower to be kept down for four games, and the Nuggets aren’t as consistent as they were last year, as evidenced by their loss to the San Antonio Spurs that cost them the top seed in the conference. However, the Nuggets still have the playbook for beating this Lakers’ team.

The Jamal Murray Effect

The Nuggets have two players that can take over a game on the offensive end. The obvious one is Nikola Jokic. The other is Jamal Murray. Murray has battled through a slew of lower leg injuries this year, but, when he’s on the court, his effect on the game is undeniable. His passing ability is underrated, and he paralyzes the defense into a state of wanting to help but not wanting to give up an open dunk. That’s exactly what this play demonstrates.

Murray is on the left wing with Austin Reaves guarding him. Around the rest of the floor, everyone is matched up one-on-one with their man with their eyes glued to Jamal. Murray dribbles a couple of times, and you see both Rui Hachimura and Anthony Davis fighting the urge to double team him. Instead, they leave Reaves one-on-one, and Murray drains the clean jumper while falling away from the basket before Rui is able to get over and bother the shot.

On this play, Murray is sharing the floor with three players off of the bench and Michael Porter Jr. Murray is the only real threat off the dribble, and it shows. The entire Lakers’ defense is built around keeping him away from the basket and making someone else beat them. Murray splits the defenders that try to trap by the sideline and into the corner. After that, it’s free money for him. He could either take the wide-open floater in the lane, or he can hit Peyton Watson for the lob after his man just stopped guarding him. Murray’s presence makes Denver’s offense that much more lethal, and it doesn’t always have to do with his scoring.

The Defensive Centerpiece

For 21 years, LeBron James has been arguably the toughest player to defend in the NBA. His combination of size and agility alone make him difficult to stop. Throw in his ability to draw fouls on a regular basis, and he often leaves defenders struggling to find answers. Even at age 39 with more minutes played than any other player in history between the regular season and the playoffs, he’s still capable of putting up incredible performances where he looks unstoppable.

You’re not going to shut LeBron down for an entire series, but Aaron Gordon might just be the best chance in the NBA that any team has of slowing him down consistently. Gordon is the only other guy that can match LeBron’s size and speed, and it’s one thing that has made him so effective offensively in Denver. On the play above, Gordon fights to get around two different screens, and you can see LeBron attempting to drive to the rim. Against most wings, he probably would have been able to do that. Against Gordon, that wasn’t the case. He had the strength to hold his ground and force James into the tough fall away jumper. If he hits that shot, you tip your cap and move on, but that’s the way to defend him to a t.

On this play, it’s essentially the same look that Murray got against Reaves on the other end. Murray’s in a position to help if LeBron tries to go towards the paint, and he can still get out to his man if the pass goes there. However, none of that ends up mattering. James goes one-on-one with Gordon, and he can’t bully his way to the rim like he wants. Gordon watched the 2015 NBA Finals and pulled out the Andre Iguodala playbook. Force him to take the mid-range jumper and hope that he misses more than he makes.

Problem Solver

I’m putting this clip in here in the hopes that just one singular Laker fan sees it. There’s a certain amount of skill involved in it, and we can break that down over and over if we want. However, it’s more fun to just say that it’s just luck and Jokic is a wizard that uses his powers just to crush the hopes and dreams of the Lakers on a regular basis. Still, it was a pretty cool shot.

Clock running down. Both teams look a little discombobulated. Don’t worry. Your 7’ center is just gonna drive to the rim and put your All-NBA center into a no-win situation with a eurostep before laying the ball in softly at the rim. Jokic spins fast for a guy his size, and I think defenders still haven’t figured out how to account for it yet. He gets to the rim so fast on this play, and the only person that can try to bother the shot is Anthony Davis, but Davis can’t help because Gordon gets the free dunk if you do. Jokic erases problems for Denver night after night, and they’ll need him to continue that in their quest for another title.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.