The Lakers face their biggest challenge. After starting the season 2-10 and making a real revolution in which they have won the play in and they have passed two rounds of playoffs, the Los Angeles team loses 2-0 in the conference finals, a round that no one expected them to reach. The Nuggets have proven to be much more mature than in 2020, when they fell in the same round and against the same rival in the Orlando bubble (4-1), after coming back from an extraordinary 3-1 loss to the Clippers in the semifinals. Nikola Jokic is a consolidated star in his prime and plays unquestionable, masterful, magnificent basketball. And Jamal Murray, without being the same as the level shown in Florida, He has returned with flashes of talent that torture the Lakers, who have lost two consecutive games for the first time in these playoffs and have not managed to conquer a Ball Arena in which the Colorado team remains unbeaten (8-0 already) in this final phase. Awesome.
Now, the series moves to the Crypto Arena: the renowned Staples Center is the temple of the Lakers, the heart of Hollywood. there he has returned Jack Nicholson sniffing at an opportunity, knowingly at 85 which is the last ring option that you will be able to enjoy. But a possibility is not a certainty and things have changed compared to the two previous series: the Angelenos are no longer capable of carrying out an initiative that they handled perfectly against the Grizzlies and Warriors, winning the first game away from home, recovering the advantage field and then conquering two consecutive matches in his fiefdom. Now, the rival is better and all the pressure is on them: a defeat in any of the next two clashes would virtually end the tie. And the option of closing in a hypothetical fifth in Denver waves dangerously over a team, the one in purple and gold, that has to entrench itself in Los Angeles to stay alive..
The eternal adjustments
There is one thing that the Lakers have shown above all else: they are tough, very tough. They give absolutely everything back, they never give up and they always fight. The soul, defined after the transfer of Russell Westbrook, has been brutally consolidated. And he has made them a rival who will not die until they have killed him. Of course, there is bad news for them: they have lost consecutively in two games in which they have played well. And that is always negative if we take into account the capacity for improvement that a team has had from one night to the next that gives the feeling that, beyond taking the tie to the mud and entrusting itself to the power of Crypto, there is little else they can do. Putting Rui Hachimura over Nikola Jokic, with Anthony Davis waiting on the assists in the area, seems like the best solution against the Serb. And little or nothing can be done if Jamal Murray is at such a level. But…
But things can be done. And above all, they can change things. It would not be surprising if, faced with environmental pressure, the Nuggets have the constant success that they showed in sections of the first game or that Jamal Murray scores 23 points in the last quarter, which he did in the second. From there, keeping Hachimura on Jokic and closing the rebound (the Lakers have lost this battle in both games played) will be the keys.. The aids to stop the Serb or considerably reduce the spaces that he generates and the assists that he distributes to the rest of his teammates will also be important. And finding the best pairing for Murray (Jarred Vanderbilt, Dennis Schröder…) is an imperative necessity. Something has to be done with the base. The good thing for the Lakers is that they already found themselves in a similar situation with Stephen Curry in the semifinals and that stopping the new playmaker it should be easier.
Yes indeed, once again, everything depends on what LeBron James and Anthony Davis can contribute. The king claim your crown in the most difficult yetin his 20th season and with 38 years. But he must make his appearance, improve in the selection of the triple (1 of 20 in the last quarters in these playoffs), not incomprehensibly miss easy layups and return to the plan that has served you all your life, to attack the zone and produce near the basket. The fatigue is visible in him and in Anthony Davis: neither was up to the task in the last quarter of the second game and the secondaries (Austin Reaves, Hachimura…) work to a certain extent. In conference finals, talent decides more than ever and no matter how tired the legs of the two stars are, they must prevail against their rivals and make a difference.to. It is what is asked of them.
Win or die
The Lakers are required to win both games at home to keep the series alive. The rotation can be made smaller if D’Angelo Russell is ostracized, which would be logical: the Angelenos have a -41 with him on the court (in 59 minutes) and a +30 without him (in 37). And everything will happen because LeBron and Davis go back to being what they were, that the first manages to keep his sore foot fresh most of the time and that the second do not have the absences that you have from one duel to another: of the 40 points of the initial assault, at 18 of the following. Reaves is insurance and will continue to be, he will handle the ball for even longer, while Hachimura becomes someone essential. From there, someone else will have to appear: Vanderbilt, Schröder (2 of 9 shooting in the second duel) or a Lonnie Walker IV who has made his presence ephemeral and has never been the microwave he was before the warriors.
Meanwhile, the typical battle in press conferences is enhanced. Mike Malone assures that with the 1-0 of the Nuggets, people considered the Lakers to be winners due to Hachimura’s adjustment on Jokic (something that has not happened) and the Los Angeles player that his rivals do not have a rim protector. In the midst of all this, it is LeBron who, in his infinite wisdom, talks about what needs to be talked about. His sprained ankle during the second round is not going to stop him (so he said) and you have to win 4 games to pass the round. He has insisted a lot on that: you have to get to 4 and, until the Nuggets reach that number, the Lakers are still alive.. There is no abyss that the King leans into, however deep it may be, that makes him tremble. He has seen himself in every possible situation. He has fought all the rivals. He comes from ending an entire dynasty in what has been the end of an era. And now, to come back from 2-0. Win or die. that’s the way it is.