The Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets meet in the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, and if you’re feeling a little deja vu, that’s because these two teams are meeting in the 2020 Conference Finals. NBA Deciding to resume the season suspended due to the covid outbreak in Orlando, the Nuggets and Lakers battled in five games with LA winning the series and finally defeating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Ironically, the Eastern Conference Finals is a 2020 bubble rematch between the Heat and Celtics, so there’s some real Groundhog Day stuff going on in the NBA. But while it’s natural to try to draw conclusions about what we’ll see from the two meetings, it’s clear that the differences outweigh the similarities in this series.

For starters, only a few players remain the same on both sides. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the winners from the Lakers’ 2020 championship team, while Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are the only players for the postseason meeting between Denver and LA.

Roster construction is the most obvious difference between now and the 2020 Western Conference Finals, but there are a few important factors that could shape this series. With that in mind, as the Lakers and Nuggets prepare to battle it out again, let’s break down the five main similarities and differences we’ll witness between the bubble matchup and the 2023 Western Conference Finals.

1. Davis should dominate like he did in 2020.

The most exciting matchup in this series will be between Davis and Jokic. In the year In 2020, Davis completely dominated the Nuggets, who had no answer in trying to stop him. With limited options in the front court, Davis is averaging a team-high 31.2 points and 6.2 rebounds on 54.3 percent shooting from the field through five games. Oh, and that game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave the Lakers a commanding 2-0 lead in Game 2 of that series.

If Davis hadn’t hit that 3-pointer, the Nuggets would have tied the series at one game apiece, and we might have gotten a different result, which is LA steamrolling Denver.

The bad news for the Nuggets is that they will run into the same problem when they try to capture AD again. With Aaron Gordon likely tasked with guarding LeBron James all series, Denver doesn’t have another high-quality forward or center to prevent Davis from getting what he needs. As much as Jokic tries to make life difficult for Davis, he simply isn’t defensive enough to make that much of an impact.

If the Nuggets try to send a help defense through Davis, he’s a high-IQ passer and will find the open man on a rim-to-rim cut backdoor or out to the perimeter again. The Lakers don’t have the perimeter shooters they did in 2020, so Denver could decide to leave someone like Jared Vanderbilt or Dennis Schroder open to put more pressure on Davis.

The bottom line is, Denver doesn’t have a specialist to match up with Davis, who in 2016 was a 10-year-old. It was the same case in 2020. So the best they can hope for is to limit everyone and force AD ​​to beat them. If that doesn’t work, the Nuggets could be in trouble.

2. The Lakers don’t have a lot of bodies to throw at Jokic

Part of the reason LA can be successful against Denver in 2020 is because they have other guys who can get physical with Jockey and make him uncomfortable. Between Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, the Lakers had plenty of guys to wear down Jokic over the course of the series. That tactic may not work this time, because outside of Davis, Eddie doesn’t have the luxury of more big men capable of countering Jokic if he gets into foul trouble.

The physicality of Jokic’s play can wear down his guys, and when that happens with Davis, Lakers coach Darwin Hamm will need to figure out who to rely on to fill that void when AD needs rest. This is likely where we’ll see some minutes from Tristan Thompson, who the team signed earlier in the postseason for just such a situation. Thompson can’t stop Jokic, but he’s a hot body that LA could throw at Jokic with the goal of getting Davis some rest. Mo Bamba is another option, though he’d probably be a bully in the paint for Jokic.

The Lakers could try and go a little further with Vanderbilt, but his lack of offensive threat doesn’t bode well for LA on the other end of the floor. There is no reliable option for the Lakers at this point and if they can’t figure out who else to guard Jokic besides Davis, the Nuggets will dominate this series.

3. Improve the Nuggets to protect LeBron

One of the most underrated aspects of Denver’s success in the playoffs thus far has been Gordon’s defense. He had Karl-Anthony Towns in the first round, held off Kevin Durant from going supernova in the conference semifinals, and now faces his toughest test yet as he tries to unseat LeBron James. In the year In 2020, that role of defending James has been filled by Jeremy Grant, another capable defender, but too small to really make an impact. Although Grant and Gordon are similar in height, Gordon is much stronger than Grant, making him a good guy to guard LeBron.

Gordon’s athleticism should also help him in this battle, especially when LeBron tries to go downhill. But even though Gordon is equipped to guard LeBron, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The Lakers are going to set multiple screens to get Gordon off LeBron, and try to get Jokic to throw a switch, giving Bron the green light to go to the rim. This could be the biggest key in the series, as we already know that Davis can feed Jokic while he waits. So if Gordon can control LeBron, or at least turn him into more of a facilitator than a scorer, that’s a plus for Denver.

4. Bubble Murray repeat

The Orlando bubble produced some truly great performances, and Murray was at the center of some of them. Two 50-point outings against the Utah Jazz in the first round and a 40-point shutout against the Clippers in the conference semifinals are the crown jewels of Murray’s career so far. While he hasn’t been scoring in ridiculous sets against the Lakers in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, he’s still averaging 25 points, 7.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds on 51.8% from the field. It was an extremely efficient series from Murray that got everything he needed against LA’s defense, even with the presence of elite defenders Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who still managed a five-game streak.

Fortunately for Murray and the Nuggets, Caldwell-Pope is now in a Denver jersey, and Caruso is no longer wearing the purple and gold. Instead, Murray will take guys like D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Schroder. Schroder can be a pest for Murray, but he’s somewhat less so in that matchup, and he’s just been thrust into the starting lineup in Game 6 against the Warriors. The Nuggets may try to target Russell as the weakest defender in the starting lineup, something the Lakers can’t afford to let happen. Knowing how to exploit some of those mismatches will be key for the Nuggets in this series, Murray said.

5. The depth of the Lakers is more effective than in 2020

In the year When the Lakers and Nuggets squared off in 2020, it was mainly LeBron and Davis who did all the damage. They got the necessary contributions from role players like Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, but Denver couldn’t handle the LeBron-Davis situation. Outside of those two, only Caldwell-Pope averaged double figures in that streak.

Lakers score against Nuggets in 2020 Western Conference finals

Anthony Davis


LeBron James


Kentavius ​​Caldwell-Bishop


Kyle Kuzma


Dwight Howard


Ever since LA hosted Denver in five games, you could argue that the Lakers didn’t really need big performances from their role players, but it was clear that the Lakers’ gameplan was to let LeBron and Davis bulldoze the Nuggets, and it worked.

But while that may not work this time against a much-improved Denver team from 2020, the Chargers are getting more production from their players so far in the postseason. The Lakers’ top five scorers are scoring in double figures in the playoffs, a big improvement from their 2020 title season. Most impressively, two of the three scorers were offered at the trade deadline, showing that LA’s moves on the trade market in February had a positive impact in more ways than one.

He scored a goal in the 2023 playoffs.

LeBron James


Anthony Davis


D’Angelo Russell


Austin Reaves


Rui Hachimura


If that production continues from guys like Russell, Reeves and Hachimura, the Chargers won’t need to rely so much on Eddy and LeBron to put up astronomical numbers on the Nuggets over the finish line.

Although there are few similarities in this matchup to the one from 2020, the difference is that these are not the same teams that met in the Orlando Bubble three years ago. Those differences will be important factors in this series, and will determine which team will represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

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