NBA playoffs

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets face Lakers as quest for repeat begins


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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets face Lakers as quest for repeat begins

SUPERSTARS. Lakers forward LeBron James (right) greets Nuggets center Nikola Jokic on court in regular season action.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

‘Have to play mistake-free basketball,’ says LeBron James as the Lakers take on presumptive MVP Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets in the first round of the West playoffs

In 1985, the only thing standing between Denver and the NBA Finals were the Los Angeles Lakers. Same thing in 2009 and 2020, and each time Los Angeles ended the Nuggets’ season.

Last year, Denver broke through against the Lakers in the Western Conference finals on its way to the first NBA championship in franchise history.

The Lakers get an early shot at redemption when the teams meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. 

The Nuggets, the No. 2 seed, host Game 1 against seventh-seeded Los Angeles on Saturday night, April 20 (Sunday, April 21, Manila time).

Game 2 is Monday night in Denver.

The Nuggets have won eight straight against the Lakers, including the sweep in the Western Conference finals, and they won the three meetings this year by an average of 10 points.

Denver is a heavy favorite to eliminate LeBron James and Anthony Davis again, but the Nuggets players are expecting a tough series.

“I think every game in the playoff series last year was really tough,” said Nikola Jokic, the presumptive MVP. “Could’ve went either way… Yes, we beat them 4-0, but they’re a really talented team. They’re really well-built.”

The four games in last year’s playoffs were close, with only one, Denver’s 119-108 win in Game 3, by a double-digit margin, and the circumstances are different this year.

Because they’re meeting in the first round, Los Angeles is much more rested. In 2023 the Lakers had survived two six-game series and a play-in game before facing a Nuggets team that had won their first two rounds rather easily.

The other factor is the change in rosters. Denver’s bench included veterans Bruce Brown and Jeff Green last season, but this year the reserves are younger, less consistent but more athletic.

Head coach Michael Malone went through growing pains with Peyton Watson and Christian Braun as the two became more reliable.

The Lakers added Gabe Vincent in the offseason but a knee injury limited Vincent to 11 games during the regular season. He returned to the lineup in late March and added perimeter defending and three-point shooting to the mix.

Vincent did well guarding Nuggets guard Jamal Murray in the NBA Finals last year and figures to draw the assignment on Murray a few times during the series.

The biggest advantage Denver has is Jokic, a 7-footer who shoots at a high percentage, rebounds well and finds open teammates better than any big man in the game. 

Jokic finished the regular season 10th in scoring (26.4 points), fourth in rebounding (12.4) and fourth in assists (9.0).

Davis, who will try to stop Jokic, didn’t have much success against him in the playoffs last year. Jokic averaged 27.8 points on 50.6% shooting, 14.5 rebounds. and 11.8 assists in the sweep of Los Angeles.

James, even at 39 years old, is capable of taking over games but knows his team has a small margin for error against the Nuggets.

“Have to play mistake-free basketball,” James said of the series. “Make it tough on them. They’re going to try to make it tough on us.” –

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