NBA 2022/23, on Wednesday, 05/17/2023
The Lakers already had to go almost the full distance against the defending champions, but in the upcoming 2023 Conference Finals against the Nuggets I can imagine that this time it could even actually come to a Game 7.
Both opponents are extremely evenly matched, and in my Nuggets Lakers opening matchup tip, I’ll highlight a few key matchups that could determine the rest of this exciting playoff series and seem to slightly favour the Californians.
The Nuggets are favoured on the betting markets. After all, they not only finished the Regular Season in first place, but also made it through their first two play-off rounds in relatively commanding fashion.
In round one, they defeated the Timberwolves (4:1), while in round two, the Suns, perhaps the best team of these 2023 NBA play-offs on paper, were successfully seen off into the offseason.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are trying to clean up the field from behind. Because after Los Angeles only punched their ticket to the knockout stage via the play-in tournament, they were able to knock off both the Grizzlies (4-2) and the Warriors (4-2) as underdogs.
The purple and gold remain the underdogs in this series. Because the Nuggets Lakers odds are unambiguous in that regard. But I dare say LA could surprise the bookies and some pundits this time as well.
Because, paradoxically, the particular style of play of both teams could mean that Denver could knock off the Suns, who are stronger on paper, more easily than will be possible against their upcoming opponent.
In fact, I will also inaugurate the Bet365 bonus with a Lakers win because the Californians can counter the best offensive player of these NBA play-offs so far (Nikola Jokic) with Anthony Davis, the best defensive player.
Nikola Jokic is always at his most dangerous when he can use his playmaking skills and come out of double-man coverage to serve his free-standing teammates with assist after assist.
This is something the Lakers must avoid at all costs, and in Anthony Davis they happen to have one of the few players in the NBA who can consistently tie up the Serb in 1-on-1 man-to-man coverage.
Jokic, to me, is more dangerous when he can lay up baskets than when he has to score himself. This matchup at the centre position should therefore already not please Nuggets fans, but there is another tactical argument in favor of the purple and gold.
Aaron Gordon did an excellent job of covering Kevin Durant of the Suns in the 2nd round, but against the Lakers it will be infinitely more difficult to have the same success against LeBron James.
In contrast to Durant, the NBA icon is physically much more robust and the Nuggets’ man-guard could have greater problems holding his position at the basket than against KD.
Add to that the fact that the Lakers have acquired some excellent role players since the trade deadline, who have already made the difference several times in these playoffs and can always provide an increase in tempo coming off the bench.
I’m thinking of Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell and Lonnie Walker IV, who have been game-changers for LAL on multiple occasions this postseason, despite the fact that they are really just supplemental players.
The Nuggets will also have a tough time because they are 2-2 against the Lakers after season duels – even though each of those four duels took place before the aforementioned trade deadline, when LA was not yet in possession of various key players.
After the Suns’ elimination, the Nuggets have become the team with the best chance of winning the title according to the current NBA champion betting odds.
The only team still favoured on the markets is the Celtics, with odds of around 2.05, whereas a return to the NBA throne for the purple and gold would entail a quadrupling of the stakes!
Conclusion: The game will take place in Colorado and thus a few hundred feet above sea level. It will therefore be interesting to see how the ageing NBA icon LeBron James will cope with this significant difference in altitude.
Still, I see the Lakers in a good position to pull off a win here, provided of course Anthony Davis continues to play excellent basketball and gets Nikola Jokic under control on 1-on-1.
If you also take into account that the purple and gold can defend excellently and have various bench players who can single-handedly decide a game on a good day, an away win against Denver doesn’t seem so unlikely anymore.
My Nuggets Lakers tip: LAL wins Game 1.