The remaining two teams in the west had a long and fun second round. Denver and Los Angeles were more committed and better coached than the star-studded teams in Phoenix and Golden State. While the Lakers are on a roll and could be the hottest team remaining in the playoffs, the Nuggets are the team to beat after two dominant series. One of these two dedicated franchises must advance to the championship round. Time to break down which one has the best chance to represent the west in the finals.
#7 Los Angeles Lakers v. #1 Denver Nuggets
The first of two conference champion matchups audiences watched in the 2020 bubble, this one features a defensively locked in team versus an offensive powerhouse. Los Angeles dismantled their past two opponents to a degree where both teams eliminated have to re-vamp their rosters and make major moves at multiple positions. Denver stonewalled two highly talented offensive teams while scoring at will in their two series wins. They’re the highest seed in either conference the last month of play and don’t feel there’s pressure despite some historic firsts.
The term, “You’re as strong as you’re weakest link” hints which team wins this series. The Lakers are the better defensive team but need consistent scoring from players not named Anthony Davis or LeBron James. The Nuggets have the best scoring presence and offensive starting five remaining but need to play solid defense in order to take pressure off stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
Two factors regarding who advances are coaching and the forward positions. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. will have a hard time versus Jarred Vanderbilt and LeBron James on both sides of the ball. Gordon’s inconsistency in the middle of last series’ win against Phoenix raises red flags the longer this best-of-seven continues. Michael Porter Jr. will struggle to limit LeBron’s impact for many reasons. The forward duo that performs better certifies who wins each game.
To me, the better coach will determine who advances to the finals. Unlike his former mentor in Milwaukee, Darvin Ham breaks down technique, mistakes and film better. He makes pivotal adjustments while planning how to exploit an opposing team’s weaknesses without overusing his star players’ health. Mike Malone has done a great job shifting Denver’s attention to play better defense against offensive minded teams deep in the playoffs. It’s possible Ham’s adjustments force the Nuggets to focus back on offense with how the Lakers are the opposite of their previous opponents. Malone might not have a lot of answers once both teams settle into the series.
Prediction: Lakers win series and advance to the NBA Finals 4-2
Western conference playoff picks record after round one: 4-0