2024 Playoffs: West First Round | Nuggets (2) vs. Lakers (7)

NBA Playoffs: What to expect in Nuggets-Lakers series

The defending champs come into the playoffs on a roll, and its experienced core could be too much for L.A.

LeBron James will have to turn in another vintage series if the Lakers hope to upset Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets.

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A rematch of the 2023 Western Conference Finals awaits. If Denver’s 3-0 regular season against the Los Angeles Lakers serves as any indication, we should expect another 4-0 Nuggets sweep over the Lakers in this year’s opening round.

Los Angeles hasn’t tasted victory against the Nuggets since December 2022. Although the defending champs lumbered into the postseason in 2023, losing five of their last seven games to close the season, this year’s squad enters the playoffs having won six of their last eight.

Series schedule

Here’s how to watch the Nuggets vs. Lakers series:

All times Eastern Standard Time

  • Game 1: Lakers vs. Nuggets; Saturday, April 20 (8:30 p.m., ABC)
  • Game 2: Lakers vs. Nuggets; Monday, April 22 (10 p.m., TNT)
  • Game 3: Nuggets vs. Lakers; Thursday, April 25 (10 p.m., TNT)
  • Game 4: Nuggets vs. Lakers; Saturday, April 27 (8:30 p.m., ABC)
  • Game 5: Lakers vs. Nuggets; Monday, April 29 (TBD, TBD)*
  • Game 6: Nuggets vs. Lakers; Thursday, May 2 (TBD, TBD)*
  • Game 7: Lakers vs. Nuggets; Saturday, May 4 (TBD, TNT)*

* = If necessary

Top storyline

It’s Lakers-Nuggets Part II in the playoffs. So, we get another postseason series featuring stellar bigs in two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic going head-to-head against Anthony Davis, as well as other stars such as LeBron James and Jamal Murray.

The matchup between these teams in last season’s Western Conference Finals was widely viewed as highly competitive. Ultimately, we all watched a clean sweep. Denver’s largest margin of victory in that series was just eight points, and the Lakers fell by two points in the decisive Game 4.

Luckily for Los Angeles, its Play-In Tournament victory Tuesday over New Orleans bought it some needed time off ahead of Game 1 to face a Denver team coming off nearly a week of rest.

Keep your eyes on

Jamal Murray: In case you forgot, Murray averaged 32.5 points and nearly three steals, dropping 30 of 37 points in the opening half of Game 3 for Denver’s largest margin of victory in last year’s series.

It marked one of the most efficient postseason series in league history, considering Murray shot 52.7% from the field, 40.5% from deep and 95% from the free-throw line. Murray’s 50-40-90 line registered as just the 11th in a playoff series for a player averaging 30 points or more. What’s more is Murray has now done that twice – remember the 2020 bubble?

1 more thing to watch for each team

For Lakers: D’Angelo Russell recently said: “Public humiliation has done nothing but mold me into the killer that you see today.” Game 1 of last year’s series certainly met the threshold for humiliation. Denver played Russell off the floor in Game 1. He shot 4-for-11 for eight points and played just 8:45 in the second half. The Lakers can’t afford another slow start from him.

For Nuggets: Denver is missing veteran glue guys in Jeff Green and Bruce Brown, who were key contributors to last season’s championship run. So, youngsters such as Christian Braun and Peyton Watson will be counted upon to step into those roles. The Nuggets expected as much and groomed them during the season for more responsibility. The postseason is a different animal though.

1 key number to know

18-15 – This is the series for which 3-pointers will mean the least. The Nuggets were the only team that had a winning record (18-15) in games in which they were outscored from 3-point range this season. The Lakers, meanwhile, had the most wins (23-29) when being outscored from deep. Denver (35.2%) and L.A. (35.8%) ranked 30th and 28th, respectively in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range, and those rates were even lower (32.9% and 31.0%) over the three regular-season meetings.

Shots from beyond the arc won’t be meaningless, of course. The Lakers won their Play-In game by four points, outscoring the Pelicans by 15 (42-27) from 3-point range. And a big reason they had the league’s third-ranked offense over the last half of the season is that they went from shooting 35.7% (20th) from beyond the arc over their first 41 games to shooting 39.5% (second) over their last 41. The Nuggets, however, swept the season series, with their point differential from 3-point range (plus-27) almost matching the overall mark (plus-30).

Perimeter shots matter, but more than any other, this series will be determined inside the arc.

— John Schuhmann

The pick

Nuggets in four. Jokic averaged a triple-double against Davis last year in the playoffs, and there’s no reason to expect a dropoff this time. Los Angeles lacks depth and the firepower in the starting group to keep up with Denver’s experienced core. The Nuggets finished the 2022-23 regular season in a slump. They enter this postseason rolling. This won’t be close.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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