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2023-24 NBA Playoffs Preview First Round: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Playoff Preview
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 NBA Playoffs Preview First Round: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers

For the second straight season the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers will face off in the NBA Playoffs. Last season the two met in the Western Conference Final where the Nuggets marched to a four-game sweep of the Lakers. The regular season series went the same way with soon-to-be three-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets beating LeBron James and the Lakers in all three meetings this season by double digits. 

This first round matchup will begin on Saturday, April 20 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC. Let’s have a look at all the details about the Western Conference foes.

GAMEDATEMATCHUPTIMETV
Game 1Saturday, April 20thLakers @ Nuggets8:30 p.m. ESTABC
Game 2Monday, April 22ndLakers @ Nuggets10:00 p.m. ESTTNT
Game 3Thursday, April 25thNuggets @ Lakers10:00 p.m. ESTTNT
Game 4Saturday, April 27thNuggets @ Lakers8:30 p.m. ESTABC
Game 5*Monday, April 29thLakers @ NuggetsTBDTBD
Game 6*Thursday, May 2ndNuggets @ LakersTBDTBD
Game 7*Saturday, May 4thLakers @ NuggetsTBDTNT

*If needed

What to know about the Denver Nuggets:

Notable starters:

Other players in playoff rotation:

The Nuggets come into the NBA Playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the West, but don’t let that fool you. They are still the cream of the crop in the NBA and are looking to defend their 2022-23 NBA Championship. Consistency is always needed for any team looking to repeat and that is exactly what the Nuggets have. All five starters from last season’s team are still here and with the best player on the planet leading the way, it will be tough to stop. 

The two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will set the tone for the Nuggets in this series with the Lakers. In all three regular season games against the Lakers one of those two led the way with at least 29 points. Behind them, Michael Porter Jr has quietly been having a solid season in which he played a career-high 81 games and finished averaging 16.7 ppg and 7 rebs. 

Last season the bench led by Bruce Brown and Jeff Green was huge in the non-Jokic minutes which had hindered the Nuggets up to that point. It is a very different look off the bench this season with both Brown and Green having moved on. Second-year players, Christian Braun and Peyton Watson have led the way off the bench, especially on the defensive end. Watson has become a fan favorite with his tenacious defense having over a block per game. Reggie Jackson and Justin Holiday have added great versatility to the bench unit as well, helping out at both ends of the court.

While Watson has been impressive off the bench, the defensive efforts of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have to be mentioned. The two-time NBA Champion and former Laker has been the Nuggets’ best player at the defensive end of the court. He has been tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best players all season and has done a great job that has people in Denver calling for an all-defensive nomination.

What to know about the Los Angeles Lakers:

Notable starters:

Other players in playoff rotation:

This season ended up not quite going how the Los Angeles Lakers had intended, yet they still found their way into the NBA Playoffs. It may have taken a hard-fought 110-106 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in to get there but they’ll take it. There was one point this season when the Lakers looked like they may have missed out on the playoffs altogether, but having won 11 of their last 14 regular season games they have momentum on their side.

At 39 years old, LeBron James continued to show why he is one of the best players of all time. He averaged 25.7 ppg, 7.3 reb, and 8.3 ast. All of which were top two on the Lakers. His partner in crime has been Anthony Davis, who played a career-high 76 games this season. Outside of those two stars, D’Angelo Russell had a great season finishing with 18 ppg while shooting a career-best 41.5% from the 3-pt line.

Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves have continued to be solid starters that on any given night can step up and take over a game. The bench has been a concern but that is in large part due to numerous injuries to key rotational players such as Jarred Vanderbilt, Cam Reddish, and Christian Wood. 

Questions for this NBA Playoff Preview?

1) What can the Lakers do to slow down Jokic?

This is a question that no team has really figured out. In the Western Conference Finals last season the Lakers threw different defenders on Jokic to scramble up the coverage with Hachimura and Davis taking most of the load. Hachimura had some success last year before Jokic went back to his Laker killer ways. In three games this season the Serbian averaged a near triple-double against the Lakers with 29.3 ppg, 12.0 reb, and 9.0 ast. Whether it is Hachimura or Davis guarding Jokic it will be tough to stop the reigning NBA Finals MVP from doing what he does.

2) Will the Lakers bench take advantage of a young Nuggets bench?

The non-Jokic minutes were the big concern coming into this season, but somehow the Nuggets have managed to not be as terrible this season without their star on the court. As mentioned above, the Nuggets will have a rather young bench rotation with Christian Braun being 23 years old and Peyton Watson just 21 years old. Braun played a role in the playoffs last year but Watson did not at all. The Lakers bench on the other hand is made up of some seasoned vets. Plus you would expect LeBron to get minutes against the Denver bench. Spencer Dinwiddie is in his 10th NBA season, Taurean Prince his 8th, and Gabe Vincent his 5th. Vincent was a key player for the Miami Heat a season ago on their way to the NBA Finals before falling to a Nuggets team that he’s sure ready to help take down. If the Lakers can take advantage of the Nuggets bench they could have a recipe to upset the No. 2 seed.

3) What will Porter Jr do to silence the outside noise?

There has been a lot of noise around Michael Porter Jr’s brothers this week with one brother Jontay being banned from the NBA for life amidst a gambling investigation. His other younger brother Coban was also in the news as he was sentenced to six years in prison surrounding a DUI. That is a lot for anyone to have to deal with, especially an athlete who already has the spotlight on him. No one would be surprised if MPJ struggles early on in this series, but there is also a chance that like last year he steps up when called upon. The Nuggets will need him to perform if they are to make another deep run.

Prediction: Nuggets in 5

The Denver Nuggets have had the Los Angeles Lakers number over the last few seasons having now won eight straight against their California foes. With Jokic and Murray having had a taste of NBA glory it seems like they are ready to defend their title. The Lakers have LeBron and AD but the rest of the team worries me. For that reason, I think this first round series goes to five games, but I would not be surprised if we see another sweep of the Lakers. 

***

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