We did not get Kevin Durant vs. Stephen Curry in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, the participants in the series are the best teams in the conference — the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers.
With LeBron James back in the conference finals for the first time the series is at its proper spot on the sports calendar since 2018, many sports fans are about to be introduced to Nikola Jokić. The 2021 and 2022 MVP is a recognizable name, but far from one of the faces of professional sports. Not only does he play in Denver, but most of his local fans can’t even watch him play due to a disagreement in the thriving industry of cable television.
Playing against James, I hope Jokić is aware that after this series his face is about to become significantly more recognizable not only in America but across the entire world.
This is arguably the most intriguing matchup of the 2023 NBA postseason, and also a recent conference finals rematch with the main characters still in the same jersey. So let’s go over some of the most important storylines.
He is a much better player in 2023 than he was in 2020. Specifically, he is two MVP trophies better. Losing to the Lakers in 2020 was expected by the public, and not viewed by much of it with an airborne disease coating the world. Also, those Western Conference Finals were played in October instead of May.
This time around his team finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the West. He, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. still make up the rest of the Nuggets’ top three. On top of that, the roster around that nucleus has not only improved, but become a force.
The Lakers are better than both of the Nuggets’ 2023 postseason opponents even though they’re a No. 7 seed. These Western Conference Finals are the biggest test of Jokić’s career. And this time the NBA is riding 20-plus year highs in television ratings. He has been by far the best player this postseason. We’ll see if that continues for the next two weeks.
He has been the best player on the floor in two consecutive series, and that includes one against Stephen Curry. As impressive as he was guarding the most lethal long-range shooter in NBA history, it’s time for him to go up against someone his own size.
Jokić’s strength is going to test Davis, as well as that pick-and-roll action with Jamal Murray. Davis is going to have to be able to alternate from using all his might to gain positioning in the post to scrambling to stop the best two-man game in the sport.
Then on the other side of the floor, he needs to put Jokić to work on defense. A tall task for a tall man.
The Nuggets strengthened their bench during the offseason, while the Lakers fortified theirs during the offseason. Doing so greatly changed the fortunes of both franchises.
It’s the playoffs so starters and stars will play the biggest roles, but a few players must be dependable coming off of the bench. Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV (pictured above, right), and whoever doesn’t start between Jarred Vanderbilt and Dennis Schröder, or Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Christian Braun — choose your fighters.
There have been questions about Darvin Ham (pictured) throughout this season, but if nothing else he held the Lakers together during their darkest hours — that 2-10 start. Through injuries and a thin roster, the Lakers still remained viable in the postseason hunt. Then as soon as they got reinforcements they went on a roll and ended the regular season with 43 wins.
When DeMarcus Cousins spoke highly about Michael Malone, that should have been a dead giveaway the Sacramento Kings never should have fired him. Their loss has been the Nuggets’ gain as Malone has used Jokić’s unique talent to rain points upon the NBA. Also, that team winning 48 games last season was a Herculean feat.
He took it upon himself to close out the Warriors. At some point that James will show up against the Nuggets, but what about the other moments?
While he can’t go Super Saiyan for four nights, he still has to be the Lakers’ second-best player. James has to run the offense and is going to have to be a factor in defending the Nuggets’ pick-and-roll that comes with a side of the 6-foot-10 Porter always lurking behind that 3-point line. The Lakers don’t need MVP LeBron, but they do need an all-star more nights than not.
There is always a possibility of a key player getting injured, thereby shattering the series. With the Nuggets and Lakers though, the chances are a bit higher. I’m going to be a bit superstitious here and not names. I am very much looking forward to this series and don’t want to speak anything into existence.
However, NBA fans know the players in this series who make them uneasy when gimpy for even a slight moment.
There is a reason that every time the Nuggets have a good team they have one of the best home records in the NBA. That reason is spelled out in their free-throw arc — 5,280.
That number is the elevation that the Lakers will be playing at for a potential four road games. Southern California is mountainous, but not at the site of Lakers’ home stadium in LA Live or their practice facility in the South Bay. Lungs both young and old are going to have to acclimate to Denver quickly.
It has been worse, but it has also definitely been better. Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith at the desk shows how seriously ESPN takes its NBA product, but putting well-known people on camera is not a surefire way to make a good program.
Too often the studio show turns into a five-minute sports-talk radio segment. Combine that with the game not tipping off until at least 15 minutes after the scheduled time and pregame introductions not being televised, there is no ramp-up leading into the action on the floor.
Maybe with only one game per broadcast tip-off will arrive more quickly, but I would much rather watch the player intros than Stephen A. being maximum Stephen A. That is a dish best served in the daytime.