The battle for Los Angeles.
That was the series everyone was expecting, but will never get to see. It was supposed to be the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Los Angeles Clippers in a seven-game series to decide who really owns the city — and subsequently — the NBA as well.
Basketball fans wanted to see LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis vs. Paul George, and of course Patrick Beverley vs. everyone. It was labeled for months as the true 2020 NBA Finals — the winner of that series was supposed to win the championship.
That is the great thing about sports though as we do not always get to see what is ‘supposed’ to happen.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were ‘supposed’ to match up against each other in the 2009 Finals. Instead, the Orlando Magic bested the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games and pulled off the upset. In a similar fashion, the Lakers vs. Clippers series in 2020 might go down as one of the greatest ones to never have been played.
In the end, the Clippers choked.
They got complacent against a Denver Nuggets team that was as hungry as they have ever been. The Nuggets smelled blood in the water and once they knew that, they were capable of beating the juggernaut Clippers as more and more cracks in their armor began to show.
James might be known as the King of the 3-1 comeback, but the Nuggets are surely giving him a run for his money. In NBA history, no team has overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the playoffs — except these Nuggets now.
The Nuggets were able to dismantle Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz and win three straight before doing the exact same thing to Leonard, George, and the Clippers.
Now, they have set themselves on a collision course against a Lakers team that knows it is just a mere four wins away from their first NBA Finals berth since 2010.
While the Nuggets have proven to be well worthy of their spot in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers will send them packing in just six games.
The Lakers are not only the better-constructed team, but also have the two best players in the series.
As I did with my other two series previews, I will now predict the winner of each game. For context, I have selected nine of the team’s ten games correctly so far, so there is a streak to maintain here:
Game 1: Nuggets
Game 2: Lakers
Game 3: Nuggets
Game 4: Lakers
Game 5: Lakers
Game 6: Lakers
If the Lakers manage to go up 3-1 over the Nuggets, they might as well pack their bags and prepare to head on home to Los Angeles. However, through four games, I am expecting it to be tied up at 2-2 or hopefully, 4-0.
The problem for the Nuggets is simple: Who is guarding James and Davis?
While that might seem to be the question in every series the Lakers play, it is still a very legitimate one. The same question was asked against both the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets and neither team could find an answer.
Ironically, the Lakers hold a 3-1 record in the 2019-20 NBA season series between these two teams and both James and Davis dominated. The All-Star duo averaged a combined 58.0 points, 15.6 rebounds, 14.0 assists, and 3.0 blocks with James shooting 48.5 percent from the field and Davis knocking down 54.4 percent of his shots.
In comparison, the Lakers managed to hold both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to under 19.0 points per game during the season series with each shooting under 50 percent from the field. Murray, who has been on fire during the playoffs, shot a horrific 15.8 percent from beyond the arc in his four matchups against the Lakers this season.
Luckily for the Lakers, they have had to face three of the league’s top-five guards during the first two rounds in Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. While all three of those players still found ways to score, the Lakers managed to make things extremely difficult on each one of them, and the same will go for Murray.
Per NBA.com, Alex Caruso has served as one of the league’s best defenders during the playoffs, recording the highest Defensive Rating (98.8) of any player to have logged at least 20 minutes and five games played. He will undoubtedly give Murray problems, just as he did the other top-tier guards the Lakers faced off against.
As for Jokic, the Lakers are well equipped in Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee to at least force him into some tough shots. The Joker will undoubtedly get his buckets, but as long as the two twin towers can make things hard on him, they should be able to hold him in check.
On top of that, the Nuggets just are not equipped as a team to stop what it is the Lakers excel at doing: scoring in the paint and on the fastbreak.
According to NBA.com, the Lakers have ranked second in points off turnovers (18.8), second-chance points (13.7), and fastbreak points (15.5) while scoring the most points in the paint of any team (49.6) during the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they have given up the seventh-most fastbreak points (10.8) and fourth-most points in the paint to their opponents (44.4). All in all, they just do not match up well with the Lakers and throughout a best-of-seven series, their flaws as a team will be exposed.
As James himself said, the Lakers are ‘just built different.’
In the end, the tandem of James and Davis will be too much for the Nuggets to handle and their Cinderella story will come to a close in just six games. The Lakers will ultimately move on to compete for their first Larry O’Brien trophy since 2010 against either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat.