The Los Angeles Lakers face a whole different challenge squaring off with the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. After successfully coping with the Houston Rockets’ small-ball, L.A. will now have to find a way to tame the explosive and center-oriented Nuggets spearheaded by Nikola Jokic.
Denver stunned the L.A. Clippers in the conference semifinals, recording yet another comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and then dominating them in Game 7. Among the main architects of their success were Jamal Murray, who is averaging 27.1 points in the postseason, and Jokic — a unique and versatile center who poses a threat on multiple levels and on both ends of the floor.
Against the Clippers, Jokic kept sinking layups, difficult mid-range jump shots and 3-pointers, all the while serving as one of Denver’s main playmakers. He ended the series at 24.4 points per game, adding 13.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
“Joker is one of the most unique players in the world and one of the most unique players to ever play the center position in this league,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said.
“He can hurt you at the 3-point line, in the pocket, playing the 4-on-3 game from the post, and obviously with his passing. They understand his abilities passing the basketball and do a great job speed cutting through the lane.”
Vogel’s adjustments for the Rockets series resulted in a significant decrease in rotation minutes for JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
But the Lakers head coach said his centers are certainly going to play a bigger role against Denver. “They make it very difficult to guard and make this series a lot different than last series in terms of how much we’ll use our centers,” Vogel noted.
“I don’t want to get too much into detail, but obviously we’re going to be the L.A. Lakers we’ve been all year. We adjusted to a small-ball team last series, but I would expect us to return to form.”
Jokic struggled against the Lakers during the regular season, particularly on the glass. In the four games, which ended with a 2-2 tie, the Serbian center averaged just 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds — a drop from 19.9 and 9.7 otherwise for the season.
Davis: Rockets series gave Lakers ‘confidence’
After falling to Houston in Game 1, the Lakers made rotation adjustments that resulted in two dominant victories to close the series out. L.A. did not trail in any of their final two games against the Rockets, with the defense shutting down James Harden and Russell Westbrook while also facilitating the offense.
“It gives our shooters and role-players a lot more confidence going into this next series. And defensively, the way we played: guys being on a string, guys talking, guys covering for each other,” he said.
“The way we finished the last two games in this series is very impactful and it’s going to help us in the next round.”
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