It feels like an eternity since we watched the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets battle in the 2020 Western Conference Finals. The pandemic warped everyone’s view on time and the world’s only recently started to feel a little normal again.
To make things feel even weirder, both Conference Finals series are a rematch of 2020, with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat joining the Lakers and Nuggets in the final four.
That’s got to make Nikola Jokic feel funny. After losing 4-1 to the Lakers three years ago, he’s dominated the league, winning two MVPs and establishing himself as one of the best and most uniquely skilled players that the NBA has ever seen. He’s unfortunately also been a victim of the ‘MVP Curse’, as he hasn’t made the third round after getting those awards.
Now that he’s finally got a chance to reach the NBA Finals again, he’s got to face LeBron James and Anthony Davis again. He must be relishing the chance for redemption, considering the heartbreak that he went through the last time he faced LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The most memorable play from that last Lakers series was when Davis hit the game-winning three-pointer over Jokic and I bet you that the Serbian center still remembers that to this day.
That shot put an end to Jokic’s title hopes that year, because even if it only gave the Lakers a 2-0 lead, it sucked the momentum out of the rest of the series for the Nuggets. While Denver may have won Game 3, they weren’t able to put on enough offense in the following games before losing to the eventual champs.
Well, three years makes a hell of a difference. Since that defeat to the Lakers, the Nuggets have consistently been one of the top teams in the Western Conference and their success has been centered around Jokic.
The Joker’s powers have also grown since 2020. He was nigh-unstoppable against the Phoenix Suns and averaged a triple-double.
The biggest difference, though, is that this time he’s got the right supporting cast. While the likes of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. were on the roster in 2020, there simply wasn’t enough depth to contend with the Lakers, who were perfectly constructed that season.
This time around, here’s the backup Jokic has and their playoff stats.
- Jamal Murray: 25.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.3 steals
- Michael Porter Jr.: 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds
- Aaron Gordon: 13.1 points, 6.1 rebounds
- Bruce Brown: 12.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: 10.5 points, 3.3 rebounds
The Nuggets are a well-oiled offensive machine at this point, as evidenced by six players averaging double-digits in scoring during the playoffs so far. Jokic no longer has to do everything himself and it’s been seen that they do much better when he doesn’t have to completely carry the load.
The Nuggets lost when Jokic had to drop 53 points against the Suns and while he was dominant in that game, it was clear that winning hinges on him keeping his teammates involved.
The Lakers are going to have a lot more bigs to throw at Jokic, with Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura likely to take turns trying to contain him. That will put Jokic’s playmaking abilities to the test, because he’s not going to be facing a depleted squad like the Suns were by the end of that series.
Jokic has the tools, and now finally the right supporting cast, to prove why he’s one of the best in the world. It will be exciting to see if he can elevate his game against the Lakers.
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