The Nuggets survived a gut-wrenching Lakers fourth-quarter rally in Game 1 to eke out a win. So what adjustments does Denver need to make in Game 2, and how can the Nuggets counter the Rui Hachimura-Nikola Jokic matchup that the Lakers went to in the fourth quarter of Game 1? Also, should the Nuggets continue to play Jeff Green, and which Lakers’ role players scares you the most? DNVR Nuggets discusses.
How concerned should the Nuggets be about the Lakers’ Hachimura-Jokic adjustment?
Adam Mares: Moderately worried. I don’t think that it’s a fool-proof plan but I doubt the Nuggets offense runs as smoothly as it did in game one when Nikola Jokic put up one of the best stat lines in NBA history. The question will be how confident the Lakers are in that strategy and how long they will stick with it if Denver gets open looks early against it. To me, it’s more of a curveball that they should pick and choose moments to try it out, not a game-long strategy that tilts the series.
Harrison Wind: They should be concerned, just because it worked really well in Game 1 and it didn’t look like Denver was ready for it. But from what the Nuggets have said publicly following Game 1, they’re confident — and almost cocky — about how ready they are to counter that strategy in Game 2. Denver better murder that defensive scheme tonight based on how they’ve spoken about it. As always in these types of situations, you’ve got to trust Nikola Jokic. Because he’s figured out and eventually mastered every defense that he’s gone against. He’ll eventually solve this one too. Probably tonight.
Brendan Vogt: The answer, as always, lies in the middle ground. The Lakers did find something. They used a tactic that the Nuggets have struggled with before. But they lost the game. Denver’s had time to look at it and decide how they’d prefer to approach it. It’s also an off-speed pitch from Darvin Ham. He spoke to the media at the team hotel yesterday and reiterated his desire to “change up (the) pitches” they throw at Nikola Jokić. Even the Lakers don’t believe they can deploy the strategy for an entire game. I expect a variety of coverages throughout the remainder of the series.
Should Denver continue to play Jeff Green?
Mares: Yes, but I don’t think he needs to play every night. LeBron is like Jokic in that he figures things out as a series goes on. Throwing different defenders at him will cause him to stop and think about how to attack each guy. Zeke Nnaji and Vlatko Cancar are both as solid defensively as Jeff so I don’t think there is much of a dropoff defensively. Also, with games every other day, it might be smart to use Jeff sparingly every other game.
Wind: Yes, but it’s time to scale back his minutes some. Green played 18 minutes in Game 1 and Denver has been outscored by 36 points in the 84 minutes that Green has been on the floor for since Game 3 vs. the Suns (five games total). His rebounding is a question mark. His defense isn’t reliable. Yes, Green is 6-foot-8 and a big body — that’s why he spent the second-most minutes guarding LeBron James in Game 1 — but how much of a difference is he really making. Michael Malone trusts Green and he was great with the bench unit in the Timberwolves series and in Games 1 and 2 vs. the Suns. But that was a while ago now. I like the idea of playing Michael Porter Jr. at the four more, but if you’re subbing someone in for Green at that spot, his No. 1 responsibility on a lot of defensive possessions will be the guard James. Vlatko Cancar is the only guy currently not in the rotation right now that I trust.
Vogt: Green’s stock is free-falling. He’s out there, presumably, to defend, rebound, and provide a little pop off the bench. But teams don’t fear his shot; he can’t grab a board, and the defense is a roller coaster. Admittedly, he was better than given credit for in the first round, and the Nuggets are 9-3 with their current playoff rotation. Whoever takes the eighth spot is a lightning rod for criticism. All that said I wouldn’t mind a look at Vlatko Čančar. He can rebound and shoot — although he’d be dusting the shot off the shelf — and he’s a smart player. I doubt the moment itself will overwhelm him. Vlatko’s been a professional basketball player for a long time.
What Lakers’ role player scares you the most?
Mares: Jarred Vanderbilt has the ability to impact this series on the boards if Darvin Ham were to take him off of Denver’s guards and have him focus more on rebounding against Denver’s bigs off of the bench. Rebounding is Jeff and AG’s weakness and the bench has to get stops in order to be successful. If he were to just focus on rebounding against the second unit, Denver would be forced to adjust.
Wind: Austin Reaves. He excels at two things that can frustrate the Nuggets: Driving to the rim and getting to the foul line. Reaves shot 5-9 from 3-point range in Game 2 and 4 went 4-5 from distance in the second half. He tallied eight assists too with 0 turnovers. He’s someone who can hurt the Nuggets if Denver shifts too much of its attention to guarding Anthony Davis tonight. That might be what happens after Davis went for 40 points in Game 1.
Vogt: At the risk of leaning into an already exhausted talking point, it’s Rui. The off-speed pitch is covered. But he also boasts outstanding physical tools. Simply put, Rui is a unit. Big, quick, and skilled — he’s a tough cover for just about anyone on the roster. The Lakers’ most significant advantage in this series might be their ability to win the bench minutes in myriad ways. Rui is a big part of that, which I assume plays a role in the conversation about starting him going forward.