2020 West Finals Preview

Can the Nuggets ride their momentum to the Finals or will the Lakers live up to their loft expectations? What to expect in the 2020 West Finals.


Keys for the Nuggets

I never thought I’d be writing this paragraph. In two straight series’ I’ve written the Nuggets off. I thought they were done against the Utah Jazz and I was sure they would be eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers. Yet here they are, the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 West Finals. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Denver was one of the best teams in the NBA for the majority of the season. They have an All-NBA center in Nikola Jokic and a rising star in Jamal Murray. Throw in a top 5 NBA offense and a defense that seems to pick it up when it matters most and you have a volatile mix. They are an underdog only because they are playing the LA Lakers.

After going down 3-1 to the Utah Jazz, Jamal Murray went on a scoring tear to tie the series up. In fact, he was the first player since Michael Jordan (!!!) to score 40 points in 3 straight games. The Nuggets then fell back down to earth by losing 3 of the next 4 games against the Clippers before ultimately rallying for yet another comeback. I really don’t know what to make of this team except for this: they never give up and no lead is safe. There is not a lead big enough where you can let your foot off the gas if you’re playing Denver. Now, let’s see take a look at their keys to success in this 2020 West Finals.

Second Half Productivity

Against the Clippers, the Nuggets dominated the second halves. During their comeback, they outscored the Clippers by an average margin of 21.3 points. Games 5 and 6 saw the Nuggets hang 67 and 64 points on a pretty good defensive team. I believe that’s directly correlated to coaching. Mike Malone is one of the most underrated coaches in the league. He’s been an assistant coach since ’01 and he’s worked with some great teams. He was an assistant for the Cavaliers ’07 title run and was on Mark Jackson’s Warriors staff before he finally got hired to run his own operation. It’s hard to quantify coaching in a player-driven league but it really seems like the Nuggets play hard for him and I think that’s important. He’s obviously making the right adjustments to allow Denver to come out with an edge in second halves.

Protecting the Paint

Surprising stat of the day: When Gary Harris is on the floor, the Nuggets’ defensive rating is 106.3 as opposed to 117.0 when he’s off via NBA.com. However, the biggest problem for the Nuggets is points in the paint. The Clippers bailed the Nuggets out by taking jumpers all series long but you can bet the Lakers won’t be that easy. The Nuggets will have to control the paint and that starts with players like Harris, Torrey Craig, and Jerami Grant out on the perimeter. The Lakers thrive on spreading teams out and attacking driving lanes. Jokic has never been known as a defensive center so that means the wings and guards will have to prevent those lanes from opening up to protect Jokic. That might mean sacrificing some open 3’s. However, by putting the game into the Lakers’ shooters hands; I believe the Nuggets will have a better chance.

If they fail to do so, it could be a parade to the free throw line. Anthony Davis is a mismatch for every big Denver has on it’s roster in the post and Lebron James even more so on the perimeter. Putting Grant or Craig on Lebron will likely be the move but neither player is well-equipped for the assignment. Paul Millsap is a couple years past his prime but he may have the physical strength to bully Lebron or AD away from the basket but I wouldn’t count on it. How the Nuggets defend the paint could swing this series one way or the other.

Jamal Murray vs the Laker guards

For a quick refresher, let’s take a look at Jamal Murray’s improvement from the regular season to the playoffs:

ppgapgrpgfg%3p%ft%
Regular Season18.54.84.045.6%34.6%88.1%
Playoffs27.16.44.750%49%91%

That statistical jump is bonkers and it’s a good indicator of the incredible hot streak Murray has been on in these playoffs. In order for the Nuggets to win, he’s going to need to do this and more. He can’t be inconsistent like he was against the Clippers. The Lakers guards would seem ill-equipped to handle a guard like Murray. But we have to remember they have already shut down the likes of Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the playoffs. In order for Murray to prove that his leap to stardom is real and not simply a bubble aberration, he’ll have to find a way to succeed in this series. If there’s one thing Murray has proven in these playoffs it’s that he won’t shrink away from the challenge.

Series X-Factor: Michael Porter Jr

Porter ruffled a few feather last series when he criticized coaching for not spreading the ball around. While I certainly think it could have been said with more tact, I don’t think he was wrong. Porter is a natural born scorer. He’s a 6’10 mismatch with a silky smooth jumper and the ability to go off at any moment. With Gary Harris back in the lineup, Porter moved back to the Nuggets bench where I believe he’s much more effective. He likely won’t have to deal with a high caliber defender and all he’ll need to worry about is providing scoring. If Porter can have a couple big games and give some quality minutes, he absolutely raises the Nuggets ceiling in this series. Nobody should be asking Porter to guard Lebron or AD but if Malone can put him in a position to score, he could be the difference.

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3 responses to “2020 West Finals Preview”

  1. Kobe Avatar
    Kobe

    Denver will miss their mile high advantage dearly. That actually makes a huge difference.

  2. Joe McCree Avatar
    Joe McCree

    Great prospective , done your homework

  3. Blackbeird Avatar
    Blackbeird

    Never been a believer in Murray, but obviously I was wrong. I am rooting for a regression from that 49% from 3 in this series which should make things easier enough for the real LA nba team.

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