First things first, Anthony Davis shouting Kobe as the ball swished for a game winner was poetry in motion. I could not think of a better way to pay respect to the late, great Kobe Bryant, whom the 2020 season has been dedicated to. The purple and gold seem to be on a mission this year and are now six wins away from capturing the franchise’s 17th title. With that being said, I have three takeaways from the game, as I believe it is a little too early to call the series a sweep, especially given the Nuggets’ history in this year’s playoffs.
First, the Nuggets have to turn up the ball pressure on the Lakers on the perimeter. While this is much easier said than done, it is the only chance they have of limiting Davis. Nobody truly matches up with Davis on the Nuggets. The best way the Nuggets can check him is to make him work for his touches and not let him get deep in the post. They have to force the Lakers to settle for jump shots from guys not named LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Personally, I think the defensive switch of having Miles Plumlee on the floor is working as well as can be expected, but someone needs to close out on Davis’ jump shots. This will allow Nikola Jokic to secure more rebounds in the paint and limit the Lakers’ second-chance points and easy tip-in attempts.
Next, the Nuggets need to get back to being the balanced team they have been all year. The Lakers are keying in heavily on Jamal Murry and Jokic. This means they need to distribute the ball early and keep rotation guys in rhythm. They need guys like Gary Harris and Paul Millsap to contribute offensively if they have any chance to make this a competitive series. Additionally, I personally believe Michael Porter Jr. is being underutilized in the offense. He has the skillset to draw defenders toward him, providing more space for Murry and Jokic. I know that sounds picky, but the Nuggets were one defensive stop or a few cheap points here and there from stealing a win in Game 2. Every mistake hurts against a team with two of the league’s top-five players.
My last takeaway is that pace might be the most important factor in this series, and that game tempo is dictated by two players: Jokic and LeBron. Jokic and the Nuggets are always looking to throw fast outlet passes after securing rebounds and pushing the pace. They excel in the open floor with space to shoot. While the Lakers are also formidable on the fast break, they prefer a more methodical approach to their offense, which better utilizes their size advantage on the interior. Ideally, the Lakers want to have enough of a post presence to tire out Jokic, potentially get him in foul trouble and create easier shot opportunities to make up for their not-great outside shooting. The Lakers can get away with playing this way because LeBron, now without a shadow of a doubt, is still the best player in the league. He initiates the offense and has such gravity that he forces the Nuggets, who constantly switch on defense, to eventually make mistakes.
Don’t let a 2-0 series lead fool you, this series is far from over. The Nuggets have earned that respect.