The Denver Nuggets are back in the Western Conference Finals, and they will be duking it out against the Los Angeles Lakers, the same foe they faced the last time they reached this stage of the playoffs. Denver completed a stunning turnaround that saw them climb back from a glaring 1-3 hole in the semifinals, and pull off an upset over Kawhi Leonard and the heavily-favorited Clippers squad.
But then again, the job is not yet complete. They will be facing a well-rested LeBron James, a championship-hungry Anthony Davis, and a more experienced Lakers team. It’s another uphill climb, but it seems like you can ask anything from this Nuggets group and expect them to deliver.
Here are three important things that the Nuggets need to focus on to have the chance to win four games against LeBron and the Lakers.
Win the effort battle
If you’re going up against a seasoned playoff star in LeBron and a Top 5 player in Davis, it’s inevitable that you will lose out in some facets of the game. But one thing the Nuggets cannot let the Lakers take is the effort battle. Denver should literally treat each game like it’s their last, and exert their 100% effort on both ends of the floor. That means boxing out on every rebounding battle, diving on loose balls, and bodying up on ‘Bron and AD and making them really work for shots.
It’s a difficult task especially in a tough, grind-out seven-game series, but the Nuggets have to make each possession count. With almost everyone clicking on the Lakers roster, we could say that they are playing their best basketball of the season right now. As the odds are placed against them, the Nuggets have to at least own the effort battle in this series.
Put Jokic in more pick-and-pop situations
Jokic is shooting a stellar 44% clip from the three-point line this postseason, and the Nuggets should always give him the green light to let it fly from deep. After sitting out JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard against the small-ball Houston Rockets, it’s expected that the Lakers will employ those two big men to guard Jokic. Denver can negate McGee and Howard’s rim protection if Jokic can effectively space out the floor with his triples.
The Nuggets should hope that Jokic will sink his long-range shots to force the Lakers to adjust. If their opponents then try to switch on every Jokic pick, then Denver should just let their big man seal a smaller player and dump the ball to him at the post.
Force the Lakers’ shooters to make plays off the dribble
It’s no secret that the long-range gunners of the Lakeshow have found their groove in the Rockets series. If they continue to shoot the lights out from beyond the arc, it’s almost impossible for the Nuggets to even come within striking distance.
Denver should make it a priority on defense to make hard close-outs on the Lakers’ shooters, and force the likes of Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Markieff Morris to make plays off the dribble.