The Nuggets overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the second straight series to reach the Western Conference finals, Waiting for them are the Lakers, well rested and largely untested in the postseason. No one expected Denver to be here, and while it opens as huge underdogs in Game 1 of this series, this team has shown us time and time again in the postseason not to count it out. Nikola Jokic's play against the Clippers cemented his status as one of the best players in the league, and Jamal Murray was jaw-dropping in Game 7 against L.A. to keep the Nuggets' championship hopes alive for one more series.
As exciting as it is for the Nuggets to be in the conference finals, though, it's not going to get any easier for them, as LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers have had five days of rest before Game 1, and bring the best net rating of any team remaining in the playoffs (9.0) into the WCF. This series may favor the Lakers match-up wise, but it won't be an easy walk to the NBA Finals for the purple and gold, especially with the way the Nuggets have been playing lately.
Here's everything you need to know about Game 1 between the Lakers and Nuggets:
- Date: Friday, Sept. 18 | 9 p.m. ET
- Location: Disney Wide World of Sports -- Orlando, Florida
- TV: TNT
- Odds: Lakers -6.5 | Over/Under: 212
Lakers: Many were expecting an All-L.A. conference final, and while the Lakers may be chuckling at the Clippers collapsing in the semifinals and look at the Nuggets as an inferior opponent, they shouldn't take this Denver team lightly. After the Game 7 loss, Doc Rivers said the Clippers' lack of experience together played a factor. If that's the case, then the Lakers would fall under that umbrella as well. LeBron and Co. mostly came together this season, and added JR Smith just for the bubble, and while the Lakers have won both series in five games, they haven't truly been tested yet. That doesn't mean they'll succumb to the same fate as the Clippers, but it should serve as a cautionary tale for the Lakers against the Nuggets.
Nuggets: Jokic was the best player on the floor against the Clippers, and after Jamal Murray was absent through the first four games of the series, he finished the final three averaging 29 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 54.5 percent from 3-point range. Denver is going to have a quick turnaround after playing in a Game 7 on Tuesday and having to play the Lakers on two days rest. However, this team is on a roll right now, and I think will use some of that residual high from upsetting the Clippers to shock the Lakers in Game 1. While the Lakers will have the length and size to match up against Jokic, JaVale McGee was the primary defender on Jokic in the four matchups the Lakers and Nuggets played against each other in the regular season, and the 7-0 Serbian shot 63 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3-point range. The Joker may have another big series again against the Lakers, but will need help from Murray and other supporting players to win.
The Lakers lost both opening games of their two playoff series this year, and I expect the same thing to happen here. They'll have five games of rest, but Denver is still playing with something to prove and will pull out another shocking win in Game 1 of this series, which will wake Los Angeles up for the rest of the conference finals.
Who wins and covers every NBA playoff game? Visit SportsLine now to see the uncanny predictions from an advanced computer model that's up over $5,000 this season.