FORGET the highly-publicized “Battle of LA” in the NBA Western Conference finals.
The basketball gods would not allow it.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the “Dynamic Duo”of LeBron James and Anthony Davis did their part by dispatching the Houston Rockets in five games and reaching the finals for the first time since 2010.
But the Denver Nuggets and the high-scoring tandem of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray crashed the West party by toppling the heavily-favored Los Angeles Clippers in their own best-of-seven series at the Disney World bubble in Orlando.
Can the Lakers make it all the way to the NBA finals and put themselves in position to compete for a record-tying 17th NBA championships?
Do the Nuggets, young and dangerous, stand a chance in their biggest battle on basketball’s biggest stage?
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers (52-19, 8-2) vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets (46-27, 8-6)
Season series: 3-1 for Lakers.
How did they get there:
Los Angeles — Defeated Portland Blazers, 4-1, in the first round; and Houston Rockets, 4-1, in the semis.
Denver — Defeated Utah Jazz,4-3, in the first round: and LA Clippers,4-3, in the semis.
Players to watch: James, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee (Los Angeles) and Jokic, Murray, Paul Milsap, Michael Porter, Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee (Denver).
Overall, this will be the seventh playoff meeting between the two teams, with the Lakers winning the first six meetings in 1979, 1985, 1987, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
The last time these two met in the finals, however, was in 2009 when Kobe Bryant and the Lakers defeated the Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets, 4-2.
This time, it will be James and Davis against Murray and Jokic in another heavyweight battle.
James, who is seeking his fourth ring with his third team, averaged a near triple-double of 26.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in 10 playoff games.
His tag team partner, Davis, is just as good and efficient with averages of 27.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 4.1 apg.
Denver will counter with Murray (27.1 ppg, 6.4 apg, 5.0 rpg) and Jokic (25. 4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 6.0 apg).
On paper, it’s all Lakers.
Led by James and Davis, the Lakers won three of four games against the Nuggets during the regular season.
The Lakers won, 105-96, 120-116 in overtime and 124-121.
The Nuggets’ only win was 128-104 in a game where James took a dayoff.
No doubt, James could be as unstoppable as tomorrow against a young Denver team with no playoff experience to speak of outside of Paul Milsap.
Davis, an All-NBA First Team, can impose his will on both ends of the floor with his size and length.
Unlike in their comeback wins over the Jazz and the Clippers, both Murray and Jokic will find it hard against the Lakers team built for the championships.
The Joker will be hard-pressed to produce his usual double-doubles against the Lakers bigs and Murray must find a way fast to overcome not only the exhaustion of two hard-fought series but the prospect of another titanic battles ahead.
While a lot of attention will clearly be on the team’s superstar duos, the supprting cast should play a key role in what could be another exciting series.
For the Lakers, Kuzma, Green, Caldwell-Pope, Rondo, Howard, McGee, Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris are expected to deliver when push comes to shove.
The Nuggets hope Milsap, Michael Porter, Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee will step up to the plate.
The coaching battle should just be about even with Frank Vogel of Los Angeles and Mike Malone of Denver expected to bring out the best in their respective line-ups.
There’s no doubt that the more talented, more experienced Lakers should be the heavy favorites against the young and upcoming Nuggets.
Prediction: Lakers in 5.
NOTES — Happy birthday to my uncle Ramon Susano, who turned another year older on Sept. 19…
Birthday greetings, too, to Alma Aguilar (Sept. 19), Elmer Zita (Sept.19) and Ingrid Maravilla (Sept. 19).
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