3 keys for the Lakers in Game 1 versus the Nuggets
The Los Angeles Lakers’ miraculous turnaround will continue on Tuesday when they travel to Colorado to take on the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
This should be a terrific series, as it will feature two tremendous star duos in LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Lakers and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Both teams also have several complementary players who can go off offensively and make an impact on the defensive end.
As it did in the prior two rounds of the playoffs, L.A. will need to win one of the first two games of this series in Denver to give itself a great shot at advancing to the NBA Finals. Many feel Game 1 is its best shot at doing so, especially given the three full days it had off after dispatching the Golden State Warriors.
If the Lakers take care of these three areas, they can steal Game 1 and the home-court advantage from Jokic’s crew.
Limit Jokic's assists
The Lakers will likely have to concede that Jokic, who was named the NBA’s regular season MVP in both of the last two seasons, will score points in bunches, at least at times. But what makes him a true headache is his passing ability.
He averaged 9.8 assists a game in the regular season and 9.7 in Denver’s first 11 playoff games, and he allowed the team to finish second in assists. Jokic’s playmaking abilities, especially in certain situations, get the Nuggets’ offense going.
If the Lakers could choose between limiting Jokic’s points or assists, perhaps the latter would result in more success for them.
Hold down Murray
Murray has two distinct flavors — his regular season variety, which is good but not too tantalizing, and his playoff version, which is spicy and fiery.
The guard averaged 20.0 points a game during the regular season, and he has upped that figure to 25.9 points a game so far in the postseason. He has also gone off for at least 30 points four times in the playoffs, which includes a 40-point outing in the first round versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Lakers will need to make Murray deal with a pinball machine of multiple defenders that will make it difficult for him to get good looks. In addition, they need to take away his airspace from the outside, as he’s shooting 39.5 percent on 7.4 3-point attempts a game in the playoffs.
Acclimate to the altitude
Even for the most well-conditioned athletes, playing in the Mile High City is always a challenge, and their bodies will start starving for oxygen rather early in a ballgame.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham may have to extend his rotation a bit in order to keep his men fresh and also to handle the Jokic matchup. This could mean giving Tristan Thompson and even Mo Bamba some playing time.
Luckily, they have had enough rest since Game 6 of the second round. On the other hand, they flew out to Denver on Sunday, so it remains to be seen how long it will take them to adjust to playing in the thinner air of the Rocky Mountains.