He los angeles lakers and denver nuggets will meet in the Western Conference finals on Tuesday, and if you’re feeling a bit of deja vu, it’s because these two teams met in the conference finals in 2020. When the nba decided to resume its season on hiatus due to the COVID pandemic in Orlando, the Nuggets and Lakers battled through five games in which LA would win the series and ultimately beat the Los Angeles Lakers. Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Interestingly, the Eastern Conference Finals is also a rematch of the 2020 bubble between the Heat and celtsSo there’s real Groundhog Day stuff happening in the NBA right now. But while it’s natural to compare the two meetings to try and draw conclusions about what we’re about to see, it’s pretty clear that the differences outweigh the similarities in this upcoming series.

For starters, only a handful of players remain the same on both sides. Lebron James and antonio davis are the only two holdovers from the 2020 Lakers champion team, while Nicholas Jokic, jamal murray and Michael Porter Jr.. where the only ones present for the previous postseason meeting between Denver and LA

Roster construction is the most obvious difference between now and the 2020 Western Conference Finals, but there are some big ones that could shape this series. With that in mind, as we prepare for the Lakers and Nuggets to meet once again, let’s take a look at five of the top similarities and differences between the bubble matchup and what we’re about to witness in the Western Conference Finals. of 2023.

1. Davis should dominate like he did in 2020

The most tempting matchup of this series will be between Davis and Jokic. In 2020, Davis completely dominated the Nuggets, who had no proper response to try to stop him. With limited options up front, Davis averaged 31.2 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds in the five games while shooting 54.3% from the field. Oh, and he also hit this game-winning 3-pointer and hit the buzzer in Game 2 of that series to give the Lakers a commanding 2-0 lead.

If Davis hadn’t hit that 3-pointer, the Nuggets would have tied the series at one game apiece, and we might have gotten a different result than we did, which was LA crushing Denver.

The bad news for the Nuggets is that they should run into the same problem trying to contain AD again. With aaron gordon Likely tasked with protecting LeBron James throughout the series, Denver doesn’t have another high-quality forward or center to prevent Davis from getting what he wants. As much as Jokic tries to make life difficult for Davis, he just isn’t a good enough defender to make that much of an impact.

If the Nuggets try to send defensive help to Davis, he’s a high-IQ passer and will find the open man on a backdoor cut to the rim or return him to the perimeter. The Lakers don’t have the perimeter shooters they did in 2020, so Denver may decide to drop someone like jarred vanderbilt either dennis schroeder open to applying more pressure on Davis.

The bottom line is that Denver doesn’t have the personnel to match Davis, which was the same problem they had in 2020. So the best they can hope for is to limit everyone else and force AD ​​to beat them. If that doesn’t work, then the Nuggets could be in trouble.

2. The Lakers don’t have as many bodies to throw at Jokic

One of the reasons LA was successful in 2020 against Denver was because they had other guys who could get physical enough with Jokic to make him uncomfortable. between Davis, Dwight Howard and even JaVale McGee, the Lakers had several guys to wear down Jokic over the course of the series. That same tactic might not work this time, because outside of Davis, the Lakers don’t really have the luxury of extra bigs who can afford to take over Jokic’s defense if AD gets into foul trouble.

The physique Jokic plays with can tire guys out, and when that happens to Davis, Lakers coach Darvin Ham will need to figure out who he can trust to fill that void when AD needs a break. This may be where we see some specific minutes of Tristan Thompson, who the team signed just before the postseason likely for a situation like this. Thompson won’t be able to stop Jokic, but he’s a fresh body that LA can throw at Jokic to give Davis some rest. mo bamba is another option, though Jokic is likely to intimidate him in the paint.

The Lakers could try to go smaller with Vanderbilt, but his lack of being an offensive threat won’t bode well for LA on the other end of the floor. There really isn’t a safe option here for the Lakers this time, and if they can’t figure out who else can protect Jokic besides Davis, then the Nuggets will have the upper hand in this series.

3. Nuggets upgrade to protect LeBron

One of the underrated aspects of Denver’s playoff success thus far has been Gordon’s defense. he contained Karl-Anthony Towns in the first round, limited Kevin Durant from going supernova in the conference semifinals, and now he will have his toughest test yet as he tries to control LeBron James. In 2020, that role of defending James was filled Jerami Scholarship, another capable defender, but too small to really make an impact. Although Grant and Gordon are the same height, Gordon is much stronger than Grant, making him the ideal person to defend LeBron.

Gordon’s athleticism should also help him in this battle, especially as LeBron tries to go downhill. But while Gordon is equipped to defend LeBron, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The Lakers are going to put up as many screens to try to get Gordon off LeBron, and try to get Jokic thrown into the switches, giving LeBron the green light to the rim. This may turn out to be the biggest key to the series, because we already know that Davis is likely to feast on Jokic looking after him. So if Gordon can keep LeBron in check or at least make him more of a facilitator than a scorer, that’s to Denver’s advantage.

4. A repeat of the Murray bubble

The Orlando bubble produced some truly elite performances, and Murray was at the center of some of them. It has been the crown jewel of Murray’s career thus far, which included two 50-point outings in the first round against the utah jazzand one of 40 pieces against the Scissors in the conference semifinals. While he wasn’t scoring in ridiculous groups against the Lakers in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, he averaged 25 points, 7.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds on 51.8% shooting from the field. It was a supremely efficient series from Murray, who got just about everything he wanted against a Los Angeles defense that, despite having an elite defender alex caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Popehe still managed to torch them in the five-game series.

Fortunately for Murray and the Nuggets, Caldwell-Pope is now wearing a Denver jersey, and Caruso is no longer wearing the purple and gold. Instead, Murray will have guys like D’Angelo Russell, austin reaves and Schroder picking it up. Schroder may be a nuisance to Murray, but he’s a bit undersized in that matchup, and he’s just been inserted into the starting lineup for Game 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Warriors. The Nuggets can try to target Russell since he is the weakest defender on the starting unit, something the Lakers can’t allow to happen. Murray will figure out how taking advantage of some of those mismatches will be key for the Nuggets in this series.

5. The depth of the Lakers is more productive than in 2020

When the Lakers and Nuggets met in 2020, it was mainly LeBron and Davis that did all the damage. They got the necessary contributions from actors like Caldwell-Pope and kyle kuzma, but Denver just couldn’t handle the LeBron-Davis tandem. Out of those two, only Caldwell-Pope averaged double digits in points over the course of that series.

Lakers scoring in the 2020 Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets

antonio davis


Lebron James


Kentavious Caldwell-Pope


kyle kuzma


Dwight Howard


It could be argued that the Lakers didn’t really need big performances from role players since LA managed Denver in five games, but it was clear the Lakers’ game plan was to let LeBron and Davis sweep the Nuggets, and it worked. also.

But while that probably wouldn’t work this time around against a Denver team that’s much improved since 2020, the Lakers are also getting a lot more role player production in the postseason thus far. The Lakers’ top five scorers in the playoffs are scoring in double figures, a jarring improvement from their 2020 title season. Even more impressive, two of those three scorers were brought in at the trade deadline, proving that the moves LA made in the exchange market in February have had a positive impact in more ways than one.

Lakers scoring in the 2023 playoffs

Lebron James


antonio davis


D’Angelo Russell


austin reaves


rui hachimura


If that production continues with guys like Russell, Reaves and Hachimura, then the Lakers won’t have to rely as heavily on AD and LeBron to put up astronomical numbers to get them to the finish line against the Nuggets.

While there are some similarities in this matchup to the previous one in 2020, the stark differences show these aren’t the same teams that met in the Orlando bubble three years ago. Those differences will be major factors over the course of this series, determining which team will represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.


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