When the Nuggets were down 3-1 to Utah in the first round of the postseason, the idea that they’d eventually appear in the Western Conference Finals seemed like a pipe dream. The same was true when they fell behind the Clippers 3-1 in the second round.
Having improbably survived both of those series, the Nuggets will once again take on an underdog role as they prepare for the next round of the playoffs, but they’ve come to embrace that role.
Among the four teams still active in the postseason, Jamal Murray is the second-leading playoff scorer, with 27.1 PPG on a red-hot .502/.491/.913 shooting line. Nikola Jokic has arguably been even better, complementing his 25.4 PPG (.515/.440/.830 shooting) with 10.8 RPG and 6.0 APG.
While no Nugget besides Murray or Jokic is averaging more than 11.1 PPG in the postseason, the club’s supporting cast has stepped up when needed. Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Harris have been reliable from beyond the arc and have the team’s best playoff net ratings among rotation players, while Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap have also provided Denver with good minutes.
Still, the Nuggets have a challenging task ahead of them as they look to upset the top-seeded Lakers. They’ll enter the series as +420 underdogs, per BetOnline.ag, which means you could win $420 if you risk $100 on Denver to advance to the NBA Finals. It’s hard to find any experts willing to pick the Nuggets in the Western Finals, and that extends to rival team employees too. Josh Robbins of The Athletic spoke to a coach, executive, and scout about the series, and all three picked the Lakers to win in either five or six games.
Like Denver, Los Angeles has leaned heavily on its two stars in the postseason, with Anthony Davis and LeBron James combining for 54.2 PPG, 21.2 RPG, and 12.9 APG through the first two rounds. Jokic, Millsap, and Grant will do their best to slow down that frontcourt duo, but they’ll only be able to do so much.
As is the case for the Nuggets, no third Lakers player has stepped up as a major scoring threat, but Rajon Rondo had a very effective series vs. Houston, with 10.6 PPG, 7.0 APG, 4.6 RPG, and 2.0 SPG. Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are chipping in with secondary scoring, and Markieff Morris and Danny Green had the club’s best on/off-court splits during the second round.
What do you think? Do the Nuggets have a chance at upsetting another L.A. team or will the Lakers do what the Clippers couldn’t and end Denver’s run here? How many games do you expect this series to last? And do you expect the winner of the Western Finals to ultimately claim this year’s NBA championship?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!
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