Thanks to heroics from Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers now hold a 2-0 series lead over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
Although the Nuggets have been in a similar position multiple times this postseason, Jokic has never had to face the defensive pressure of Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee while trying to forge a comeback.
Despite Jokic having an incredible Game 2 — scoring 30 points to go along with six rebounds, nine assists and four steals — L.A. still managed to come away with the victory. Now, Jokic will need to repeat that type of performance, and possibly even improve on it, in order for the Nuggets to win four of the next five games.
That will be all the more challenging with Howard intent on being particularly physical. However, the Nuggets’ big man is downplaying the head-to-head matchup. “I mean, it’s a basketball game,” Jokic said.
“He’s a big guy, he knows his role, he’s doing it really well. But it’s not just me against him, it’s Nuggets against Lakers. To be honest, I don’t think about it. Whoever is over there, I’m going to try to beat him, try to win the game. It is what it is. Again, I say it’s not just me against them, it’s Nuggets against Lakers.”
While that certainly is what Jokic is expected to say after a second consecutive loss, there’s no doubting this series is tougher on him than either of the last two rounds.
Against the Utah Jazz, Jokic spent most of his time facing Rudy Gobert. And while Gobert is one of the NBA’s best rim protectors, he has little versatility outside of the paint, where Jokic does a lot of his damage.
And while playing the L.A. Clippers, Jokic faced a mix of Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell to go along with some double teams. That combination never stood a chance against someone as big and skilled as Jokic.
The Western Conference Finals is forcing the Nuggets star to face the most versatile defender in basketball with Davis, or a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Howard. While the team battle is more important, Jokic will need to gain significant advantages in the individual matchups in order to win four games against a tough Lakers team.
Howard praises Jokic
Before Game 1 against the Nuggets, Howard spoke about Jokic and what makes him so dangerous. “I like him a lot,” Howard began.
“He plays under control, doesn’t let anybody rush him, he gets to his spots, he makes plays for his teammates, he rebounds, he does a little bit of everything. He’s a complete player and I love playing against him.”
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