Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks off the court following the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on April 05, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Lakers 121-110. Getty Images/Christian Petersen


  • The Denver Nuggets are viewed as minus-145 favorites to advance to the NBA Finals
  • Oddsmakers see the Los Angeles Lakers as plus-120 underdogs this series
  • Denying Nikola Jokic from even getting the ball will be the Lakers' best shot at stealing the series

The 2023 NBA playoffs are entering its climax with the conference finals taking place, and the first matchup of this part of the season will see the top-seeded Denver Nuggets take on the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers for the right to advance to the finals.

Expectations were high for the Nuggets this season as they finally had a fully healthy core after lacking the services of Jamal Murray, plus the addition of key pieces off the bench, in the past two years to support the efforts of Nikola Jokic inside the paint.

Denver is hitting their stride and oddsmakers believe it will be them who represents the West in the Finals, with BetMGM having the Nuggets as minus-145 favorites to win the series, while the Lakers are plus-120 underdogs.

It makes sense for the Nuggets to be the favored team entering the series as Murray and Jokic are a dominant force on the floor together this season, while guys like Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. provide help as tertiary stars.

Off the bench, the backcourt combo of super rookie Christian Braun and Bruce Brown has been able to put up numbers on the offense while also providing all-important defense on the wings while their main stars take a breather.

Veteran forward Jeff Green has also found new life as the main backup to either Gordon or Jokic depending on the matchups and will look to be a defensive pest in the paint against Los Angeles.

However, to count out the Lakers now would be a disservice to a team who relies heavily on LeBron James and Anthony Davis to run the offense.

The pair have finally found their rhythm after combining for 47 of the Lakers' 122 points in the closeout game which has been a rare occurrence in the playoffs for them as their first-round performance against the Memphis Grizzlies would only feature one of them shining.

Austin Reaves is also someone that deserves his flowers as he has turned into the ideal two-guard this Lakers team needs to give some form of help to James and Davis in the backcourt, while D'Angelo Russell holds down the point guard spot.

Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves
#15 Austin Reaves and #28 Rui Hachimura of the Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers Daily/Twitter

Rui Hachimura has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers this postseason as well since he fits perfectly like a glove in their system off the bench.

Ousting Denver from the playoffs will not be easy since Jokic has turned it up a notch this postseason, while Russell and Reaves will have their hands full guarding Murray and Caldwell-Pope plus Brown and Braun.

While it would be tempting for Lakers coach Darvin Ham to tell his frontcourt to just stop Jokic, the most important thing they can do is to deny him the ball and that task falls to his wings.

The combination of Vanderbilt, Hachimura and Lonnie Walker IV will need to be on their A-game defensively as Denver will be trying to get the two-man game between Murray and Jokic going early and often in the series.

Another key factor for them is to prevent easy three-point attempts from Porter which he has shown a fondness of taking, especially off breakout passes from Jokic – meaning someone has to get back quickly after the Nuggets get a defensive rebound.

As for the offense, James will need to put up about 23 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists per game if they want to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

That also means shooters like Reaves, Russell, Dennis Schroder, Walker and even Davis need to dial in their sights from long-range as early as the first half of Game 1.

Hustle, effort and timely shot-making will be the Lakers' bread-and-butter entering this series and barring injury to Davis, who will be their main hope of stopping Jokic, another upset could be awaiting this improbable run of the Lakers in the postseason.

Game 1 takes place tonight at 8:30 PM on ESPN and will be played on the Nuggets' home floor.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
#15 Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Jake Coyne/Twitter