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Lakers and Nuggets: Three Keys to the Western Conference Finals

Dec 16, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) shoots against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A much anticipated Western Conference Finals rematch will take place Tuesday night as two star-studded teams will come to meet again at the final doorstep between them and a shot at an NBA title. It will be a 2020 Western Conference Finals bubble rematch between the Nuggets and the Lakers. What will be the keys for both teams in this series to punch their ticket to play on the NBA’s biggest stage?

Lakers and Nuggets: Three Keys to the Western Conference Finals

1: Stealing a Game On the Road

The previous Western Conference Finals matchup saw the Lakers convincingly beat the Nuggets, taking the series 4-1. But, one factor was not present in this series—home court advantage. 

And yes, you could technically say the virtual fans were a home-court advantage. But in my eyes, they had no impact on the game whatsoever. I don’t believe one of the greatest players we have ever seen on the hardwood, LeBron James, was impacted by a screaming Denver fan on a virtual screen courtside. And he has a ring to prove this point.

However, this go-around home court will undoubtedly play a part in who takes this series.

The Lakers finished their regular season with a 23-18 record at home. And the Nuggets finished with an impressive 34-7 record on their home floor. Ranking second for the best home-court record in the league, one game behind the Memphis Grizzlies.

And although the Lakers were just over .500 in the regular season at home, they have been lethal in Los Angeles in the playoffs. They have yet to drop a game at arena in the playoffs, winning all six of their games. 

Turn over to the other side of the table at Denver, and they have yet to find themselves in the loss column, either. The Nuggets in the playoffs are also undefeated at home, winning all six of their matchups.

If one of these teams can steal one game at their opponents’ venue and break the trend. That might be all it takes to win this series.

2: Role Players Take Over

The additions both teams have made to the depth of their roster have paid extreme dividends. 

The Nuggets added all sorts of depth in the offseason, adding the likes of 26-year-old scrappy playmaker and defender Bruce Brown. Denver also acquired veteran shooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a trade with the Wizards. Both of these players have made immense contributions in the playoffs. And both have had game-defining performances that have swung the Nuggets into the win column. 

The Lakers have no shortage of reliable role players, either. 

Undrafted 2021 prospect Austin Reaves has continued to play at a high level. Rui Hachimura, who struggled in the games leading into the playoffs, has been nothing short of spectacular in the playoffs, having dominant performances in multiple games. Most notably, his 29-point performance against the Grizzlies.

Los Angeles continues to have more guys step up in huge spots. These players are D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Lonnie Walker.

These teams have more than enough guys to go to. And whoever’s role players can step up in the big moments in this series could help their team gain an advantage.

3: The Lakers and Nuggets Star-Studded Duos

At the end of the day, the series will be decided by the play of four players. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, and Jamal Murray.

Will Jokic dominate Davis? Does Davis dominate Jokic? Can James play at an elite level for a long period of time? Can Murray continue to shoot the ball at a highly efficient clip? 

The answers to these questions will be where the series will be determined. Anyone of these players is capable of taking a game over. And whichever team’s star can shine the brightest in the much-anticipated bubble rematch will decide what team comes out on top.


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