For the entire playoffs, the Lakers have approached each of the three game 1’s they’ve played the exact same way: we’re going to do what we do and we’re going to see if you can stop it. Against the Blazers1A really poor shooting night did them in. and the Rockets2The Lakers normal game needed to be adjusted severely to beat the Rockets, which they did the rest of the series by playing their Centers less and less as the games progressed., they lost. Against the Nuggets, though, their normal game plan worked. They played a physical defensive game and relied on transition and attacking the rim paint in the half court offensively. Denver didn’t have many answers and the Lakers blew them out.
Heading into game 2, then, I don’t expect the Lakers to try to change much. Maybe they’ll start Dwight Howard in place of JaVale McGee as they did in the 2nd half. Maybe they’ll squeeze out a few more small-ball minutes where Markief Morris plays C in a frontcourt with LeBron and Kuzma. But, those lineup tweaks likely won’t impact their overall schematic approach. They’re going to try to play physically, push the pace in transition, and attack the paint in the halfcourt. It will be on the Nuggets to make the needed adjustments to stop that.
Whether Denver can do that remains to be seen, but I’d imagine their approach will be pretty straight forward.
I expect them to try to match the Lakers physicality in order to try to avoid fouling. That may seem counterintuitive, but so many of Denver’s fouls were from playing too soft at the point of attack and not using any physicality to deny the Lakers position on the floor. The Lakers happily took that space for themselves and by the time the Nuggets reacted, it was with reaches and poor body positioning. Which, to the dismay of them and their fans, were called fouls. So, expect them to pick up the Lakers higher up the floor, for them to crowd ball handlers more, and for them to hit first on box outs and cuts to deny the Lakers the real estate they seek.
I also expect them to try to force the Lakers into disadvantageous defensive alignments more often. I think they’ll use Jokic even more as a screener both on and off the ball in order to force switches. The Nuggets offense was at their best when they either forced a switch or when Jokic got such a good screen on the ball it dictated an extended stretch of freedom for the ball handler. Those situations forced the Lakers to double team more than they’d like and with Denver’s collective passing ability combined with their off-ball movement, they generated good offensive possessions. So, I’m sure we’ll see more attempts to get these types of possessions.
Lastly, the Nuggets will have to try to take something away from the Lakers offense. Be it transition by getting back better, shots at the rim by shrinking the floor and packing the paint, or limiting AD’s shot attempts, expect the Nuggets to make tweaks. Maybe they’ll double AD more. Maybe they’ll concede open 3’s by packing the lane. Maybe they’ll stop crashing the offensive glass entirely and simply run 5 guys back all game. Or maybe it will be all the above. But, from Denver’s position, something has to change or the Lakers will keep feasting on their defense.
I’ve said it a lot, but it bears repeating: The Lakers thrive offensively at the exact things the Nuggets defense has not done well these playoffs. Now, it’s a little late in the playoffs for the Nuggets to suddenly become an entirely different defensive team. That said, if they can move the one or more of the above issues just a bit in their direction by doing them better, it can add up and begin to lessen the Lakers advantage. We’ll see.
One other Nuggets note, they need to find a way to get more from their role players offensively. Two or more of the Millsap, Harris, Porter Jr., and Grant group needs to have a good to great offensive game. They need to make the open 3’s they’re getting and they need to create more shots via cuts and, even, some self creation. Especially when the Lakers are paying so much attention to Jokic and Murray.
Lastly, if there’s one thing that can disrupt what Denver will try it’s a big game from LeBron. In both the 1st and the 2nd round, Bron has had a game fairly early in the series where he was aggressive as a scorer to try to seize the game for the Lakers. Bron was very good as a floor general and pace controller in game 1, but he only scored 16 points. If this is a game where he decides he’s going to score 16 (or more) in the 1st half or that he’s going to push for a 30+ point night, Denver can end up on their heels quickly.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TNT.