There weren’t many who would have predicted the Los Angeles Lakers advancing to the Western Conference Finals, especially considering how this season started. Even after the deals made at the trade deadline, a meeting with the top-seeded Denver Nuggets to determine who will appear in the 2023 NBA Finals would have been a prediction of very few.
Yet, the Lakers have come together to become one of the most impressive teams in the league at the right time with LeBron James controlling so much on offense while Anthony Davis has been an absolute menace on defense. Now standing in the of another Finals appearance is two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in a rematch of the 2020 Western Conference Finals, which took place in the bubble.
The Lakers and Nuggets faced off four times in the regular season this year with each team winning twice and the home team taking each contest. However, all four of those meetings took place prior to the trade deadline, meaning the Nuggets haven’t faced the new-look Lakers that came together so perfectly.
Nonetheless, lets take a look at how these squads fared against one another this regular season.
October 26 @ Denver: Nuggets 110, Lakers 99
The Nuggets used a huge third quarter to pull away from the Lakers early on this season, sending Los Angeles to their fourth consecutive loss to start the year. Jokic was dominant in this contest knocking down 12-of-17 shots to finish with 31 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and three steals while Bruce Brown hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points.
Davis led the Lakers with 22 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but James shot just 8-of-21 from the field while also committing eight turnovers. Both teams were without key players as Russell Westbrook missed the contest for the Lakers and Michael Porter Jr. didn’t suit up for Denver.
As a snapshot of just how different the Lakers were at the start of the season, players such as Kendrick Nunn, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and Matt Ryan all logged at least nine minutes off the bench, none of whom are still on the roster.
October 30 @ Los Angeles: Lakers 121, Nuggets 110
Less than a week after their first meeting, the Lakers were able to get their first win of the season, and the first win of Darvin Ham’s coaching career, with a hard-fought 11-point victory.
James was much better on this night with 26 points, six rebounds and eight assists while Davis finished with 23 points and 15 boards. The Lakers also got a big contribution from Westbrook off the bench as he had 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists while Lonnie Walker IV, then a starter, also added 18.
The Lakers held the Nuggets to just 42.7% shooting on the night, but Denver still had a solid all-around showing. Jokic finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and six assists and Aaron Gordon added 18 and six rebounds. Jamal Murray and Porter were inefficient, however, as while they combined for 38 points, they needed 36 shots to get there.
December 16 @ Los Angeles: Lakers 126, Nuggets 108
The Lakers were able to overcome an injury to Davis to pull away in the fourth quarter for an 18-point win over Denver. Davis left the game in the first quarter when his foot collided with Nikola Jokic. Davis would go on to miss 20 games due to a bone spur in his right foot as well as a stress reaction.
But in his place, reserve Thomas Bryant stepped up in a huge way with 21 points. James led the way for the Lakers with 30 points and nine rebounds while Westbrook had a triple-double off the bench with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. In fact, the Lakers bench, led by Westbrook, Bryant and Austin Reaves, outscored Denver’s 58-to-23.
Jokic led Denver as usual with 25 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Murray added 23 points and Gordon contributed 17, but the trio also combined for 14 of the Nuggets’ 19 turnovers on the night.
January 9 @ Denver: Nuggets 122, Lakers 109
With both James and Davis out due to injury, the Lakers were dominated early and unable to keep up with Nuggets in the final meeting of the season between these two teams.
Westbrook played admirably and finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while Bryant added 17 points and 10 rebounds. Rookie Max Christie got the start for the depleted Lakers and had the best game of his young career with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting. But with two-way player Cole Swider and 10-day contract signing Sterling Brown logging big minutes as well, the Lakers never had a chance.
Jokic took just five shots, making all of them, and finished with a triple-double of 14 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists while Murray led Denver with 34 points. Former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 16 points while Brown had 15 points and seven rebounds off the Denver bench.
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