NBA Wires roundtable: Predictions for the Lakers-Nuggets series

The 2023 Western Conference Finals start on Tuesday, and it should be a very competitive and exciting matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers have been on a roll ever since a slew of trades they made prior at midseason that remade the supporting cast around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They had the NBA’s second-best regular season record after the All-Star break, and so far in the playoffs they have the league’s top defensive rating.

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Denver was the top seed in the Western Conference, yet they had some trouble putting away the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns to get to this point. Still, they have a very potent and balanced roster that is centered around center Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP, and hot shot guard Jamal Murray.

Who will win? What will be the keys? Our staff at USA TODAY’s NBA Wire sites gave their opinions and predictions on what they think will transpire over the next fortnight or so.

Robert Marvi (LeBron Wire):

This series is difficult to predict, as the Lakers didn’t play the Nuggets in the regular season with their new-look team. It could go either way, and there will be a few big keys.


The biggest thing I’m wondering about is the defensive matchups for L.A. Will they put Jarred Vanderbilt, who has emerged as its defensive ace, on Jamal Murray? Vanderbilt saw his playing time go down significantly in the second round versus the Golden State Warriors. Putting him on Murray will mean putting a smaller wing on either Michael Porter Jr. or Aaron Gordon.

While the Lakers may be better offensively on paper than they were when they faced Denver in the 2020 West Finals, Denver is clearly better than it was back then. Both teams are still somewhat unproven under pressure, but the Nuggets’ home-court advantage may prove to be the difference. At least for now, I’m going with the Nuggets in seven, but if the Lakers take one of the first two in Colorado, they will have an excellent chance of winning this series.

Cameron Tabatabaie (Celtics Wire):

I’m very intrigued by the matchup between Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. If there’s anyone with the size and strength to get into Jokic’s jersey and get him off his game, it’s Davis. That said, the Joker may just be an unstoppable force the way he’s been playing in the postseason. If Davis is successful, I think the Lakers will be able to control the terms of engagement and advance to an improbable Finals appearance. Otherwise, the Nuggets should advance.


Clemente Almanza (Thunder Wire):

This is an exciting matchup. It’s the Western Conference’s best team against the hottest team left. The Nuggets have arguably been the best team in the playoffs thus far, eliminating the Phoenix Suns in a blowout win in their last game. Meanwhile, the Lakers have gone from the play-in tournament to the Western Conference Finals, dethroning the defending NBA champions in the process. Just like against Phoenix, the Lakers will have two of the best three players this series in LeBron and AD, but Nikola Jokic has been a man on a mission this postseason — arguably being the best player left in the playoffs, averaging 31-13-10. I’ll pick the Nuggets in six games as they reach the NBA Finals for the first time in Jokic’s career.

Justin Quinn (Celtics Wire):

For me, whether the Lakers can stay healthy and energized against a team that will tax them considerably more defensively than they have been so far in the postseason is key. The Nuggets SHOULD beat L.A. in this series, but we’ve all learned the hard way what can happen if you doubt a healthy LeBron in the playoffs.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire