NBA Playoffs: Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets Reach Western Conference Finals

The #1 Denver Nuggets will host the #7 Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, which tips off on Tuesday for Game 1.

Nikola Jokic
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic drives by Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo (18) during the Western Conference semifinals at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. (Image: Getty)

Only four teams remain in the hunt for the 2022-23 NBA championship, and in the Western Conference there’s one team seeking their first-ever championship, and another team on the verge of winning a record-setting 18th title. The Lakers are currently tied with the Boston Celtics with 17 NBA championships, which is most in NBA history.

The Nuggets are one of 11 teams that never won an NBA championship. The city of Denver is a fervent sports town, but the Nuggets never laid claim to a championship like the Denver Broncos or Colorado Avalanche.

The Nuggets and Lakers will meet in a rematch of the 2020 Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets are the betting favorite at -155 odds heading into their rematch, according to DraftKings. The Lakers are a slight underdog at +130 odds to win the series.

The 2019-20 NBA season was shortened, and the playoffs were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams converged inside the “NBA  Bubble” at Disney World in Orlando for the duration of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, which was played without fans. The Lakers knocked out the Nuggets, and eventually went on to defeat the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals to win the championship.

The Nuggets are still coached by Michael Malone, but the Lakers have a new head coach since their last playoff battle. Darvin Ham led the Lakers to a berth in the Western Conference Finals in his first season as a head coach.

#1 Denver Nuggets (55-29)

  • Preseason Championship Odds: +1800
  • Current Championship Odds: +240
  • Conference Series Odds: -155
  • Leading Scorer: Nikola Jokic 30.7 ppg
  • Playoffs Betting Record: 7-4 ATS

The Denver Nuggets finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference at 55-29. They ended December with a 9-2 run, and surged to the top of the standings with a 12-4 record in January.

Center Nikola Jokic won the NBA MVP in the previous two seasons, but missed out on a rare three-peat. He had a lot more help this season with the return of two injured starters. Shooting guard Jamal Murray missed all of last season due to reconstructive knee surgery. Forward Michael Porter, Jr. also missed the majority of 2021-22 due to back surgery.

The Nuggets did not break much of a sweat when they knocked out the #8 Minnesota Timberwolves in five games the opening round.

In the conference semifinals, the Nuggets needed six games to pick off the #3 Phoenix Suns. The Nuggets issued such a wicked beat on the Suns in Game 6 that the Suns fired head coach Monty Williams.

The Nuggets have a well-balanced, three-pronged offensive attack. Jokic almost averages a triple-double in the postseason with 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game. He’s also shooting 47.5% from 3-point range.

Murray, playing in his first postseason since the NBA Bubble in 2020, averaged 25.9 points, 6.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He’s shooting just under 40% from beyond the arc. Porter averages 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also knocked down 40% of his 3-point attempts in the postseason.

FiveThirtyEight predicts the Nuggets have a 71% chance to win the series, and have a 28% chance to win the NBA championship.


#7 Los Angeles Lakers (43-39)

  • Preseason Championship Odds: +1800
  • Current Championship Odds: +240
  • Conference Series Odds: +130
  • Leading Scorer: LeBron James 23.4 ppg
  • Playoffs Betting Record: 8-4 ATS

The Lakers were really two different teams this year before and after the trade deadline. After 1.5 tumultuous seasons with point guard Russell Westbrook, general manager Rob Pelinka finally offloaded Westbrook in a trade to the Utah Jazz. The new-look Lakers were able to cobble together a winning squad in the closing weeks of the regular season despite James’ right foot injury.

The Lakers began the season with a horrible 2-10 record during Ham’s first dozen games as a rookie head coach. They spent most of the season on the playoff bubble and were in jeopardy of missing the Play-In Tournament in consecutive seasons. The Lakers did not rise above .500 until the end of March, and they closed out the season with a 9-2 surge to finish in seventh place overall. They got hot at the right time, and secured the #7 seed through a play-in game against the Timberwolves.

The Lakers needed six games to upset the #2 Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round. They also knocked off the #6 Golden State Warriors in six games the conference semifinals.

The Lakers rely on their dynamic duo – James and Anthony Davis –  to shoulder the scoring burden. James, at 38-year-old, leads the Lakers with 23.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game in the postseason. His 3-point shooting is way off with only a 26.3% success rate. Davis averages 21.1 points, 117 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. A healthy Davis has been an invaluable contributor on defense in the playoffs.

The Lakers acquired veteran point guard D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline, and he averages 15.7 point and 5.0 assists per playoff game. In only his second season in the NBA, shooting guard Austin Reaves has emerged as a fan favorite in Hollywood. Reaves averages 15.4 points per game, and he’s shooting nearly 40% from 3-point range.

According to a projection from FiveThirtyEight, the Lakers have a 29% chance to win the Western Conference Finals, but have just a 9% chance to win the championship.

The Celtics and Lakers are tied with 17 NBA championship apiece. The Lakers are just eight wins away from delivering an 18th NBA championship and taking the lead.

James is also eight victories away from winning a fifth NBA championship, and his second title with the Lakers since 2020.


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