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First look at Lakers vs. Nuggets for Western Conference finals

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray shoots past Clippers forward JaMychal Green.
Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray shoots past Clippers forward JaMychal Green during the first half on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The top-seeded Lakers will open the Western Conference finals on Friday at 6 p.m. PDT against the surprising and resilient Denver Nuggets in a series few saw coming.

Stars to Watch

The Lakers have their veteran studs in LeBron James and Anthony Davis while the Nuggets counter with youth in All-Star center Nikola Jokic and a rising star in guard Jamal Murray. James has been on a tear in the playoffs, ranking third in the NBA in assists (8.8 per game), ninth in scoring (26.6) and 11th in rebounding (10.3), and his defense has been outstanding. Davis has been inconsistent scoring-wise, but he’s still ranked seventh in the playoffs in points (27.6) and eighth in rebounds (10.9). Jokic has been nearly impossible to contain, knocking down three-pointers, posting up, passing, all leading to him averaging 26.1 points per game, 9.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Murray is tied for 10th in the playoffs in scoring (26.1), and he’s averaging 6.5 assists per game and shooting 49.5% from three-point range.

X-factors

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The Lakers don’t have just one player they can turn to to be their third scorer. Sometimes it has been Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso. Markieff Morris has provided outside scoring, defense and toughness in a starting role. Since the Nuggets have a big center in the 7-0 Jokic, the Lakers could get some quality play out of centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. The Nuggets are showing that they have a deep and quality team with Michael Porter Jr., Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee all play their roles.

Why the Lakers will win?

The Lakers have been playing some of the best defense in the playoffs and their offense has been on point behind the direction of James and Rondo. The Lakers are third in scoring in the playoffs (114.1), first in shooting (49.6%), second in rebounding (46.9), first in assists (25.8), third in steals (8.3) and first in blocks (6.0). They are tied for third in the playoffs for the least amount of points allowed, giving up 105.2 points per game.

Why the Nuggets can win?

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The Nuggets just won’t quit, coming from a 3-1 deficit in the second round against the Clippers and from 3-1 down in the first round against the Utah Jazz, the first team to accomplish that in a single postseason. Denver has proven it can score on any team, ranking 10th in scoring in the playoffs (107), fifth in shooting (46.3%) and second in three-point shooting (39.5%).

SCHEDULE

Gm 1 Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN

Gm 2 Sunday, 4:30 p.m., TNT

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Gm 3 Tuesday, 6 p.m., TNT

Gm 4 Sept. 24, 6 p.m., TNT

Gm 5 Sept. 26, 6 p.m., TNT*

Gm 6 Sept. 28, TBD, TNT*

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Gm 7 Sept. 30, TBD, TNT*

* if necessary


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