We’re here. The Western Conference Finals has arrived. Game 1 of Nuggets-Lakers is tonight at Ball Arena. Who needs to step up for the Nuggets to start the series off right and who should Michael Malone play off his bench? Also, how should Nikola Jokic approach his matchup with Anthony Davis?

Who needs to step up tonight in Game 1 for the Nuggets?

Mares: Nikola Jokic. Game 1 is all about the Jokic-Davis matchup. This series feels like the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, with the best offensive player in the game squaring off against the best defensive player in the game, the #1 offense vs the #1 defense. If that is the case, and both stars battle to more or less of a draw, then there will be a dozen other battlegrounds that decide the series. But if one of those two players finds a way to dominate the other, then the dozen or so other battlegrounds become nearly meaningless. Tonight is a chance for Jokic to impose his will on the one player he has yet to definitively dominate head to head. Is he ready?

Wind: My eye is on Aaron Gordon. He’s been the unsung hero for Denver all playoffs. Gordon locked up Karl-Anthony Towns in Round 1, then really limited Kevin Durant in Round 2. Now, he’s got LeBron James. My hopes are high for how Gordon can perform in this matchup. He has the strength and size to stay with LeBron, but Gordon has to avoid the ticky-tack fouls that LeBron will try and bait him into. He has to force LeBron to take and make tough shots too. I’m not sure how many better matchups there are in the league for LeBron. Gordon has the 2nd-best DFG% out of all players remaining in the playoffs behind only Robert Williams. Opponents are shooting 14-29 (48.3%) when guarded by Gordon this postseason.

Vogt: Jamal Murray. The Davis-Jokić matchup will dominate headlines and attention. Murray has to dominate alongside 15. In theory, if matched up with Jokić, Davis won’t be able to roam and wreak havoc as he has all postseason. Murray must take advantage of the space if Jokić can lure him out of the paint. If the Lakers miscommunicate and go under on a screen or lose Murray beyond the perimeter, he has to let it fly confidently. It’s not about getting a certain number of shots up; it’s about being decisive and opportunistic. Make them pay. Don’t let anyone off the hook.

Who should Michael Malone be playing off his bench?

Mares: This might sound crazy but I think Jeff Green has a chance to play a big role in this series. Rebounding will be key, especially if the Lakers use Jarred Vanderbilt as their backup center. But the Lakers don’t have a lot of size. Green needs to make a defensive impact on LeBron and an offensive impact on the various under-sized players in the Lakers’ bench unit.

Wind: The same three guys that he played in the first two rounds: Bruce Brown, Christian Braun and Jeff Green. But I think this is going to be a huge series for Brown/Braun and their minutes could be upped from where they’ve been in the playoffs. The Lakers play four smaller guards significant rotation minutes: Schroder, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, and Lonnie Walker IV. Brown and Braun are Denver’s best matchups on some of those guys and their perimeter defense and ability to stay in front of those drivers is going to be a key to the Nuggets’ defense. Because if they don’t stay in front, those guards are going 1-on-1 downhill vs. Nikola Jokic and Denver’s help defense. That’s foul trouble waiting to happen.

Vogt: Until the Lakers force Malone’s hand, I favor leaving the rotation as is. The 8-man rotation is working, even if some Green minutes are hard to watch. The Booth Bois are locked to play in this series. It’s a matter of expanding the rotation to include other bigs. I can conceive of Zeke Nnaji minutes, but I don’t anticipate any changes in game one.

How should Nikola Jokic approach his matchup with Anthony Davis?

Adam Mares: Jokic knows what his team needs from him. If the Lakers trust Davis to guard Jokic 1 on 1 in the post, he’ll need to be aggressive and draw fouls. He’ll also need to figure out how to lure Davis out of the paint for other players to attack. Davis is the linchpin of the Lakers defense. If he is either fully occupied by slowing Jokic or drawn away from Jokic to stop the pick-and-roll, then the Nuggets will be in a good spot.

Harrison Wind: The same way he approaches every matchup — feel out the game and play however the game is telling him he should. Nikola Jokic never forces anything, regardless of the matchup. It’s what makes him so unique, special, and impossible to stop. He can hurt you in so many different ways, and it all depends on the game. But my advice to him in this specific matchup would be to play physical. Punish Anthony Davis on the block. Put your body to him when you’re in the paint. Make him have to keep you off the offensive glass. Beat him up the floor in transition. Find out if Davis can hold up throughout an entire series while matching up against the toughest and most grueling player to guard in the NBA.

Brendan Vogt: Jokić will produce one way or another. This goes hand in hand with the other objective of exhausting Davis. AD will settle for jumpers when he starts to tire. Jokić has to make his life hell in the post, moving off-ball and battling for every rebound. The Lakers can win this series if Davis is the best player on the floor. He must carry a strenuous workload for seven games. So once again, don’t let him off the hook. Don’t ever gear down.


Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. Hear him every day on the DNVR Nuggets Podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind