LeBron James speaks on differences between current Nuggets and team Lakers beat in 2020 NBA Playoffs

Ryan Aston
3 Min Read

Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Western Conference Finals is slated for Tuesday, May 16, and for the teams involved — the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets — the way forward looks a whole lot like the way back.

LeBron James and the Lakers previously tangled with Nikola Jokic and his crew with an NBA Finals bid on the line in the league’s 2020 bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Angeles was able to prevail in dominant fashion in that series, securing its spot in the title round in just five games. However, while the principal players remain largely the same as the respective squads prepare for a rematch, James can be counted among the crowd expecting a stiffer challenge from the Nuggets this time around.

“They’re a better team,” James said of the differences between the 2020 Nuggets and the team Los Angeles is facing now. “Obviously, they’re more experienced. Every game, every postseason, every matchup allows you to continue to grow as a franchise, as a team, and they’ve done that. So, we come in with the utmost respect for this team that we’re challenged against and playing against, so look forward to the matchup.”

Not all change is bad, though, and James is undoubtedly hoping that the Lakers see an altered version of Nuggets guard Jamal Murray this time around.

During the 2020 Western Conference Finals, Murray was in the midst of his playoff coming-out party. Over five appearances against Los Angeles in that year’s conference finals, he averaged 25.0 points, 7.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game and connected on 51.8 percent of his shot attempts.

Alas, Murray has been similarly effective during Denver’s current championship push, dropping 25.9 points, 6.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds nightly for the West’s No. 1 seed.

Murray and Jokic are far from the only players the Lakers need to be worried about, however. On the whole, the Michael Malone-led squad is scoring 118.7 points per 100 possessions this postseason thanks to its myriad of offensive weapons, per NBA.com‘s tracking data. That is the top mark among playoff teams.

Although the Lakers and Nuggets split their season series — the teams took two games apiece — it was Denver that prevailed in the most recent contest, defeating the Lakers by a 122-109 mark on Jan. 9.

The Lakers were without the services of James, Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV and Austin Reaves in the contest, and D’Angelo Russell had yet to rejoin the team.

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Ryan hails from Salt Lake City and has covered the Association for longer than he cares to admit, in addition to his work in the entertainment space. Past bylines include Heavy Sports, FanSided, Bleacher Report and Screen Rant.