The 2023 Western Conference Finals will feature two teams that took remarkably different paths to get there.
The Nuggets claimed the No. 1 seed in the West on December 20 and never relinquished it, winning a conference-best 53 games despite essentially going on cruise control down the stretch, losing 10 of their last 17 contests. Since the playoffs began, no team has posted a better offensive rating (118.7) or net rating (+8.6) than the Nuggets, who have yet to lose at home in the postseason.
The Lakers, of course, got off to a disastrous start in 2022/23, losing 10 of the first 12 games on their regular season schedule. While things got better from there, especially once Los Angeles revamped its roster at the trade deadline, the team still occupied the No. 13 spot in the Western standings as late as February 26, which was also the day that LeBron James went down with a foot injury that cost him the next 13 games.
The Lakers persevered, finishing the regular season on a hot streak and claiming the No. 7 seed in the West before knocking off the No. 2 Grizzlies and the defending champion Warriors. Like Denver, L.A. hasn’t lost at home so far in the postseason, but the Lakers are winning games a little differently — they only rank ninth among playoff teams in offense, but their 106.5 postseason defensive rating is the NBA’s best.
The Nuggets will enter the Western Finals as slight betting favorites (-143, per BetOnline.ag), and it’s not hard to see why.
Denver is led by perennial MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, who is coming off a series in which he averaged an outrageous 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 10.3 assists per game. Jamal Murray, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, is back in peak form, putting up 25.9 PPG and 6.5 APG on .461/.395/.915 shooting so far in the playoffs. And perhaps most importantly, the Nuggets seem to have the right complementary pieces surrounding their stars, including versatile forward Aaron Gordon, three-and-D wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and jack-of-all-trades Bruce Brown.
Still, there are plenty of believers in a Lakers squad that supplemented James and Anthony Davis by swapping out Russell Westbrook in February for valuable role players like D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley. With James and Davis healthy entering the series and holding the edge on the Nuggets’ stars in terms of championship experience, L.A. is only a +123 underdog, per BetOnline.ag.
We want to know what you think. Which team do you expect to win the series and represent the West in the NBA Finals? Should we count on a six- or seven-game series or will it be over in a hurry?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!