Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers
Line: Los Angeles -5.5
Pick: Nuggets +5.5
How many times can one team really make NBA history? I mean seriously, coming from down 3-1 once is crazy, let alone twice but if this Denver Nuggets team can do this a third damn time, we will have to talk about this being one of the great runs in NBA playoff history.
Coming down from 3-1 prior to this Nuggets team had never twice in one post season, three times is simply unfathomable.
The question is, how do they do it again? How do they find a way to win three straight playoff games against LeBron James with a trip to the NBA finals on the line?
Well, it starts with their best player. Coming into game four, I challenged Jamal Murray and said his aggressiveness in game three showed the key to the series and if he continued to do that, the Lakers would be in some trouble. What I didn’t account for though, was Nikola Jokic to disappear in a must win playoff game.
Jokic managed just 16 points, taking the same amount of shots as Jerami Grant of all people. For Denver to win another game in this series, let alone three more, Grant simply cannot take the same amount of shots as Jokic.
The Serbian star’s biggest strength, his playmaking and team first mentality, can often be his biggest downfall. It’s as if sometimes he forgets he’s the second team All-NBA player on this team who can score from all three levels almost whenever he wants.
Jokic has to find a way to punish the Lakers for trying to guard him individually, whether it be with Dwight Howard or a guard on a switch for gods sake. This Denver team becomes extremely difficult to guard when Jokic is scoring because then the help teams bring to stop him from scoring, allows him to unlock what he does best.
Time and again in NBA history, we’ve seen great passers who it takes time for them to figure this out. In the playoffs, their individual scoring has to be the catalyst for creating openings for others because teams will dare you to score in the hopes that it’ll take you out of your game.
LeBron, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and many others have all fallen victim to it. In LeBron’s case, the Dallas series taught him the importance of himself in the biggest moments and he’s never really looked back since. Jokic could be in line for a moment like that in his own career if he doesn’t start to be more aggressive.
Defensively, the Nuggets cannot continue to lose the Rajon Rondo minutes. Rondo is on this team explicitly to keep it close when LeBron is off the floor but if he not only keeps it close but wins the minutes, you’re in MASSIVE trouble.
Consistently throughout this series (and playoffs quite honestly), Rondo has decimated defences in transition and then in the pick and roll in the half court. Michael Malone’s biggest challenge coming into tonight may just be finding a way to create opportunities for his bench to win those Rondo moments. Beating LeBron is hard enough as it is, you simply cannot allow his team to prosper when he isn’t even on the floor.
Game five is allows an absolutely fascinating one, especially when one team is up three games to one. The reason is because, you don’t want to squander any momentum by allowing them back into the series. However, even despite knowing the importance of that, it can be really hard to match the desperation of a team facing the end of its season right in the face.
Look at Boston and Miami last night. The Celtics were a completely different team in that second half and the Heat just weren’t ready for it.
You have to love having a guy like LeBron on your side for a moment like this but outside of him, this team isn’t exactly full of long time winners. Anthony Davis, Howard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and even their coach Frank Vogel have all not really experienced what it takes to finish a team off like this.
That’s why I like the Nuggets to keep it close much like game four and take their chances down the stretch, hopefully pulling out the win. Jokic is going to be better, Murray is basically unguardable right now and Malone is a really good coach.
I’m not sure they have enough to win tonight but I’ll be genuinely shocked if the Lakers blow them out. Let’s be honest people, this is the 2020 Denver Nuggets. They go down swinging every single time.
They’re a team that thrives in changing the history books.