The Western Conference Finals are here, and it will be a battle between LeBron James, looking to make his 11th career NBA finals, and Nikola Jokic’s quest to make his first. Both teams made it to this point on drastically different paths, but now that they’re here, none of that matters. We’ll preview tonight’s game before going over my play for the first half.
Coming into tonight, the Nuggets have the best NET rating this postseason at (8.6), while the Lakers have the third-best at (5.1). The reason for the high NET rating differs for both teams, as Denver has the highest offensive efficiency rating this postseason while Los Angeles has the highest defensive efficiency.
Those stats set up arguably the most intriguing dynamic in this series, which is how the Lakers plan to slow Jokic down on the offensive end. In four games against LA this season, Jokic had a double-double in each of them and had a triple-double in the most recent meeting.
With that said, the Lakers have allowed the lowest field goal percentage on shots in the paint, not in the restricted area, this postseason at 39.6%, and this is where Jokic is attempting the bulk of his field goals, with an average of 10.8 in this area per game. On a broader scale, however, this does not mean the Nuggets won’t find success in the paint this series, as they are getting 46.3% of their points in the paint this postseason, and LA is still allowing an average of 46.7 points in the paint per game.
Looking at the other end of the court, the Lakers have found success getting out into transition this postseason and are getting 14.5% of their points on fast breaks, which is the highest percentage among active playoff teams. I think the tendency for them to push it tonight will be high, as Denver just allowed an average of 19.3 fast break points per game to Phoenix, the highest out of any team in the conference semis.
The Nuggets' first-half spread is currently set at (-3.5), and I’ll be taking them for my play in this one. Denver’s 1H NET rating at home this postseason is (14.8), while the Lakers' 1H rating on the road is (-15.8). Of the six road games the Lakers have played during the playoffs, they are 2-4 overall, and despite their defense carrying them most of the way, their defensive efficiency in the first half on the road is (121.8), the highest among active playoff teams.
Denver has gotten 49.2% of their points in the first half from inside the paint, and when playing on the road this postseason, the Lakers are allowing an average of 27.7 points in the paint per game in the first half. There is a strong chance the Nuggets also get second-chance looks tonight, as they are averaging six offensive rebounds per game in the first half at home, while the Lakers allowed more second-chance points than any other team in the conference semi-finals.
The Nuggets also have a 1H defensive efficiency rating at home of (97.9) during the playoffs, so their success has come at both ends of the floor. I think Denver can ride the energy of their home arena and their momentum from the last series to build a lead early tonight.
Denver Nuggets 1H (-3.5)