Lakers-Nuggets Game 1 Preview

Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA playoffs kick off tonight for the Lakers, who will face a formidable challenge from the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

Denver is a familiar opponent for the Purple and Gold as they faced off in the Western Conference Finals last season.

The Nuggets swept the LakeShow, but the series was closer than it seems. All games were decided by single digits, and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic stated, “It's probably the toughest series we had.”

The Lakers enter this series after a narrow victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the Play-In Tournament.

They boast a strong 19-6 record with the starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. With the success of this lineup, LA has a wave of momentum as they prepare to face Denver.

However, the Nuggets are the defending champs for a reason, and this series won’t be easy. With that in mind, let’s break down the keys to the Lakers stealing Game 1 on the road.

D’Angelo Russell’s production

D’Angelo Russell had a great regular season and Play-In game, but this is the series everyone has been waiting for.

Russell struggled heavily in the Western Conference Finals against Denver last season, 6/2/4 on 32/13/75 shooting splits. A performance like this can not happen again if the Lakers want to win the series. 

In Game 1, LA needs Russell to be aggressive and hit big shots down the stretch. Russell had 21 points, including the dagger three against New Orleans, and they will need a repeat performance.

Gabe Vincent’s defense on Jamal Murray

Gabe Vincent was signed to a three-year $33 million deal in the offseason to be an elite point-of-attack defender. Vincent dealt with injuries throughout most of the regular season but stepped up in the Play-In.

Vincent finished the game against the Pelicans with a 9/4/1 line, shooting 3-6 from the field and 2-4 from three. While his added offense was impactful, his real value comes through defense. 

The 27-year-old was pivotal in limiting CJ McCollum in the Play-In Tournament, and his defense on Jamal Murray will be crucial in this series.

Murray dominated the Lakers in the Conference Finals last season, averaging 32/6/5 on 53/41/95 shooting splits. They can not afford to allow Murray to score at will in Game 1.

Vincent was the primary defender of Murray for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last season. His experience and ability to fight through screens should disrupt Murray and help the Purple and Gold limit him.

Vincent could be the X-Factor for the Lakers in Game 1 and the series.

Anthony Davis's dominance on both ends

Another key for the LakeShow in this series is getting a dominant Anthony Davis on both ends of the floor. 

Davis had a great regular season, playing in 76 games while averaging 25/13/4 with 1.2 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. 

He is one of the best two-way players in the league but will have to take on Jokic. Jokic is arguably the best player in the NBA and can do it all on offense. Davis needs to meet the challenge of Jokic head-on and impose his will.

If Davis plays consistently at the level he can in Game 1 and throughout the series, it could be the difference for the Lakers.

Game 1 of this Western Conference Finals rematch tips off Saturday at 5:30 Pacific.

The Lakers need to steal a game on the road, and getting Denver early in the playoffs gives them their best opportunity to take down the defending champions.

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