The opening game of the Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets was a thrilling encounter that left fans on the edge of their seats. The Nuggets managed to withstand a second-half surge from the Lakers, ultimately prevailing in a high-scoring 132-126 affair. As the two teams gear up for Game 2, the Nuggets are favored by 5.5 points on their home court, a slightly narrower spread compared to the previous game.
The Lakers struggled in the first half of Game 1, finding themselves trailing by 18 points at halftime. However, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham made strategic adjustments during the break, shuffling lineups and defensive assignments. One key move was assigning Rui Hachimura, a reserve forward, to guard the Nuggets' star center Nikola Jokic instead of Anthony Davis. This change allowed Davis to provide weakside help and alter shots, leading to Jokic's diminished impact down the stretch.
Heading into Game 2, the Lakers cannot afford another slow start like in the previous matchup. They will aim to conserve energy and avoid playing catch-up throughout the game. Coach Ham might deploy a bigger starting lineup to counter Denver's dominance on the boards, as the Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers 47-30 in Game 1, including 15 offensive rebounds. The Lakers will emphasize the importance of energy and winning the battle for loose balls.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Game 2 is the over/under total. Game 1's closing over/under was set at 222.5 points but was easily surpassed due to both teams shooting exceptionally well. With a combined shooting percentage of 55% from the field, including 26-for-56 from beyond the arc, the Lakers and Nuggets combined for a whopping 258 points, well above the total. As a result, the over/under for Game 2 has been set slightly higher, ranging from 225.5 to 227.5 points at different sportsbooks.
In terms of pace, Game 1 had a rating of 97.5, which aligns with the Nuggets' typical style of play. However, it was slightly slower for the Lakers compared to their average tempo in the conference semifinals. The first half of the game showcased a frenetic pace rating of 102.0, resulting in 126 points. However, the tempo significantly dropped in the final two quarters as the Lakers introduced larger lineups, resulting in a pace rating of 93.0 and a total of 132 points. Given the defensive success of the Lakers' adjusted lineup, Game 2 might see a similar slowdown in pace during the latter stages of the game. Both teams are expected to focus on defensive rebounding, potentially limiting scoring opportunities and causing shooting percentages to regress.
Game 2 of the Lakers vs Nuggets Western Conference finals promises to be another exhilarating battle. The Lakers will be determined to avoid another early deficit, while the Nuggets aim to build on their Game 1 success. With adjustments on both sides, fans can expect a closer contest with potential defensive intensity affecting the scoring output. It's a matchup that could swing in any direction, adding to the excitement surrounding the series.
I feel Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will make neccessary adjustments to prevent his team from facing another double-digit deficit early. Anthony Davis will once again play a pivotal role for Los Angeles in Game 2 as the team's primary offensive player and defensive anchor. As for the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic isn't going to replicate his virtuouso all-around performance he had in Game 1, yet his presence along will just be enough to pose all sorts of problems to the opposing teams. Fans should expect another tightly-contested ball game whose winner could more likely be determined in the final seconds. Despite coming up short in the series-opener, Ham, Lebron and Davis rolled over into the press conference not showing any signs that they bothered at all by the loss. This could be a hint that they may have figured out ways to attack the Nuggets when they face off again Thursday night. I am rolling with the Lakers to level the series at 1-1. For the total, eclipsing 226 points might just be a bit of stretch. The Lakers' smoothering playoff defense is going to be felt a lot more by the Nuggets this time around.
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Prediction: Lakers 110, Nuggets 101
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