Our phenomenal East Coast team of expert fans did a great job answering questions and breaking down the ECF. You can read their review here. Now it;s time for the West Coasters to answer the same questions as they preview the WCF pitting the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets. The series no one outside of Denver saw coming, if they are being honest! We all hate that we aren’t dissecting the All Los Angeles WCF, but that’s the way things go sometimes. Here are our thoughts.
Was the ending of the Clippers season the greatest collapse in the history of the NBA when you consider they were up 3-1 and the expectations they had?
Gianni Canzona: The greatest collapse in history no, a huge collapse absolutely. The 73-9 Warriors will always be the #1 collapse even though they lost to LeBron James. The Clippers on the other hand looked like a team that never jelled, and when it matters most couldn’t make shots or get a stop. Denver also deserves a lot of credit, they continued to fight and got contributions from a bevy of role players.
Jose Salviati: It’s so hard to know how to answer that question when I know I don’t have the entire history of the NBA memorized. Sure, I could go online and research the entire history of the NBA, but who has time for that? Any answer is subjective too, there’s no way I can think of to call anything the “greatest”. Heck, we can’t even agree on the greatest player in the history of the NBA. It’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, by the way. Ok, that all being said, the Clippers second WCSF series loss after leading 3-1 has got to be one of the greatest collapses in NBA history. This team was the prohibitive favorite to win it all and played as if they had no business being on the court in game 7. Credit to the Nuggets for punching the favorites in the mouth, but wow, everyone expected more from the Clippers. This is a stink that may linger with the franchise for a while.
What was the bigger surprise, no Bucks or no Clippers in the Conference Finals?
Gianni Canzona: No Clippers by a mile. I picked them to win it all and remained confident until the third quarter of game 7. I still think, when healthy, Kawhi Leonard is the best 2 way player in the league and on paper that supporting cast should have been enough. The Heat was always a bad match-up for Milwaukee and the Giannis Antetokounmpo injury was the cherry on top for the gentleman’s sweep.
Jose Salviati: The Bucks led the Association in wins heading into the playoffs. They were the overall #1 seed. As a side note, it’s interesting to know that only one of the top 4 teams, record-wise, is still in the playoffs – the LA Lakers. Even more shocking when you see that the Celtics ended the season with the 5th best record, the Nuggets were 6th and the Miami Heat were 11th! The Bucks should be the biggest shock, but no, its the Clippers. They weren’t playing great and you could see some concern when they matched up against the Mavericks in round one. But, they were in control of the series against the Nuggets. Did we mention they were up 3-1?!?! The Bucks never seemed to have a chance against the Heat.
Who will have the bigger impact and why, LeBron James or Anthony Davis?
Gianni Canzona: This has to be AD’s series, Lebron will always be Lebron I’m not worried about him, but this is Davis’ chance to show he’s a top 5 player.
Jose Salviati: For the Lakers to win Anthony Davis has to have a bigger impact than LeBron James. James is the best player in the Association and has been for some time. But, and I get this is weird coming after what I just stated, he isn’t the best player on this team. Anthony Davis has to lead this team in scoring, average double-digits in rebounds and defend exceptionally well for the Lakers to advance. He has to offset what Nikola Jokic will give the Nuggets and Jokic will give the Nuggets everything he has; he is a star! That is not to say LBJ will have no impact, that would be a seriously dumb thing to say. But, AD has to have the bigger impact!
Who will have the bigger impact and why, Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray?
Gianni Canzona: Jamal Murray, he’s been a streaky player his whole career but has looked like an MVP caliber guard in the bubble. He could present some problems for a Lakers team that is thin in the backcourt. He has to continue to ball out for the Nuggets to be competitive.
Jose Salviati: The Lakers are a good defensive team, but that is based more on the strength of their bigs than anything else. They lead all playoff teams in blocks and steals, but the Nuggets are second in three point percentage. The Nuggets are second to last in drives per game. Outside of Jokic they are the Houston Rockets in that they shoot a lot of threes. In fact, they are second to those Rockets in three pointers made. The Lakers are going to have less opportunities to block shots only because the Nuggets will be hoisting up shots from behind the three point line where Lakers block leaders rarely dwell. Remember how JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard received no playing time against the Rockets? That’s because they don’t defend the three well. In this series those two will play a huge role in guarding Jokic, but they will be defensive liabilities when it comes to guarding the three. Jamal Murray averaged 22.5 points against tough defending guards on the Clippers (only 19.6 if you take away game 7 where the Clippers gave up). Against the Jazz, a team with less tough defending guards, Murray averaged 31.6 points! Jokic will be Jokic, but Lakers are going to have to figure out how to defend Jamal Murray so he plays more like he did against the Clippers than how he did against the Jazz.
Who is the Lakers X-Factor and why?
Gianni Canzona: For this Lakers team, I think the X-factor will always be Kyle Kuzma. He thinks of himself as a star and while he is talented his shot selection and streaky shooting make him a wildcard. He has been trying harder on defense and has turned into a good cutter, but you never know what you’re going to get from KUZ.
Jose Salviati: If we assume LBJ and AD will perform at their All-Star, All-NBA First Team standards that alone may be enough to propel the Lakers past the Nuggets. But, as is always the case on the road the a Championship, other players have to step up. Kyle Kuzma needs to be the third best player, but the X-Factor will be Alex Caruso. He has to defend Jamal Murray and make it hard on him to get open looks. His defense against the Nuggets will be key.
Who is the Nuggets X-Factor and why?
Gianni Canzona: It’s a toss-up between Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap. Both will spend time guarding both Bron and AD. Both will also need to knock down shots. The Nuggets have bodies to throw at the two stars of the Lakers, but I’m not confident in saying any of those bodies can slow down the Lakers’ dynamic duo.
Jose Salviati: I’m definitely asking a lot of a rookie, but the one Nuggets player that could have a significant impact on this series is Michael Porter Jr. This is a player who earned a spot on the All-Bubble second team after averaging 22 points per game and almost 9 rebounds. As rookies often do however, he has wilted in the playoffs. Those averages dropped to 12 ppg / 7 rpg against the Jazz then 12 ppg / 6.8 rpg against the Clippers. If he can average closer to his 22 ppg / 9 rpg that he did in the seeding games he will be a difference maker.
Which team has the coaching advantage and why?
Gianni Canzona: Slight coaching advantage to the Lakers, because they have LeBron and Rajon Rondo. As sports cliche as it sounds, that’s two extra coaches, on the floor. A lot of credit to Mike Malone and his staff, they’ve made key adjustments in both series.
Jose Salviati: Michael Malone, but only because he has been with his team longer. Vogel has proven he is not afraid to make necessary adjustments from series to series. In short, coaching should not be what propels one of these teams over the other. Both are well coached teams.
Who wins, in how many games and how is the MVP?
Gianni Canzona: I expect a competitive series, but I’m going with Lakers in 6. I do think Denver has a punchers chance. For any gamblers out there, throw a little on the Nuggets to win the series, there’s some value there. Ultimately I think Bron and AD are going to be too much for a Denver team that has had to fight in every game. AD should put up some ridiculous numbers, and I expect him to be the MVP for the Lakers in this series.
Jose Salviati: This is honestly difficult. Betting against the Nuggets has proven to be a bad bet. On paper, the Lakers will win and it shouldn’t be close. But, the Nuggets don’t care about that and have proven it over and over again. In Jokic they have a unicorn who can play low, shoot from three, dish, block shots, defend; this guy is really good! If the Lakers can figure out how to properly defend the Joker then they win the series. If he averages close to a triple-double, Murray averages about 25 ppg and Porter Jr. or Gary Harris contribute at least 15 ppg then the Nuggets have a real chance. The reason to pick the Lakers is that they just have to play like they can play to win. The Nuggets have to play just a bit better than their season averages. Can they, yes – of course! But, I have to pick the Lakers in 6. Should this series somehow get to 7 then how does anyone pick against the Nuggets? The Lakers have to win in 6 and LBJ will be the MVP although AD will average more points per game.