Jokić and James face off in the Nuggets-Lakers Western Conference Finals

The NBA is only down to its last four because this year’s conference finals have caused Deja vu, although that’s not an illusion of the mind. Less than three years ago, we saw the same teams represent the NBA East and West Finals. In the west, we have the Lakers and Nuggets in a 2020 Orlando bubble rematch that would have been predicted three months ago.

denver has been near or at the top of the west for most of the second half of the 2022-23 season. Regardless of what anyone may have thought of the Nuggets, no one should be shocked that the No. 1 seed led by reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić is back in the WCF. There’s an argument for Denver being the most consistent and balanced team left in the playoffs, and it’s no exaggeration.

After being dethroned as the conference’s reigning MVP, Jokić now sets his sights on the King and his men. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers have pulled off “upsets” in the first two rounds of these playoffs. The Lakers beat the top-ranked Grizzlies and Warriors and defeated them in less than seven games.

For the Lakers, it will always depend on what they get from AD and others. James will do what he does, and he’s become so good at keeping pace in the playoffs, like witness against Golden State. Davis played his most consistent streak since the Bubbles Championship. In the six games against the Warriors, Davis had only one real stink in the series, which was in a Game 2 loss by 27. The front scored just 11 points in 32 minutes of Game 2, but aside from this performance, he was a problem for all Warriors series.

Now Davis will have to repeat that performance against Jokić and the Nuggets. Those teams split their regular-season series but haven’t played since Jan. 9. Russell Westbrook was still a Laker then, and this team looks and plays very differently than it did four months ago. Some people get upset when Westbrook gets blamed for Los Angeles’ slow start to the season, but he wasn’t a good fit for this team. If that trade had never happened and the Lakers had moved forward with what they had, they would have been in Cancun by now.

denver should win, but…

There’s no reason the Nuggets can’t win this series because they have the best, most consistent team and a deeper roster. But with LeBron in the year 20 and back on the cusp of another championship, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more than one comeback performance from James in this series. He doesn’t have to be LeBron 2016 the whole series, but a few big 30-point games could push LA ahead of Denver. James is the model for consistency, but if the Lakers are to grab the No. 18 title, they’re going to need a few more of those big-game James projections.

On the Nuggets side, it’s pretty simple. Keeping AD and actors like Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Lonnie Walker IV at bay will be the key. If James and Davis are allowed to get into the rhythm early, that opens everything up for their supporting cast, and that’s not what Denver wants. If the Lakers emphasize Jokić working hard defensively, the Nuggets could be in trouble. Defense is not Joker’s strong suit. Jokić will get his points regardless, but he really thrives when he involves everyone. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the real game changers for Denver. Caldwell-Pope was on that Laker bubble title team, so he knows James and Davis well.

THE Joker is the straw that stirs this Nugget cocktail, but when he rolls at least two of these guys, it’s hard to beat them, especially in the mile high town.

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