20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Nuggets Take 1-0 Lead Over Lakers as Jokic Authors Historic Triple Double

Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets in scoring (34 points on 12-17 field goal shooting), rebounding (game-high 21 rebounds), and assists (game-high 14 assists) as Denver raced to a 30-14 first quarter lead en route to a 132-126 win over the L.A. Lakers in game one of the Western Conference Finals. Jokic now has two career postseason 30 point-20 rebound-10 assist triple doubles; there have been two other such postseason performances in NBA history--one by Wilt Chamberlain, and the other by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jokic also has the most career postseason 30 point-15 rebound-10 assist games in NBA history (four), breaking a tie with Oscar Robertson and LeBron James. 

Jokic performed at a historically great level, but he was not a one man show. Jamal Murray scored 31 points on 12-20 field goal shooting, as each of Denver's starters scored at least 12 points. The Nuggets dominated the Lakers 47-30 on the boards.

The Lakers rallied behind their top three players--Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Austin Reaves--to outscore the Nuggets 72-60 in the second half, but that was not enough to avoid defeat. That trio combined to score 55 second half points. Overall, Davis scored 40 points on 14-23 field goal shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking two shots. James added 26 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists. Reaves had 23 points and eight assists. Rui Hachimura provided 17 points on 8-11 field goal shooting in 28 minutes off of the bench; he did not have a single rebound, but using him as the primary defender versus Jokic so that Davis could be a defensive roamer played a role in the Lakers' second half run. Hachimura had a +10 plus/minus number, while every Laker starter had a negative plus/minus number.

The Lakers' late game rally will no doubt inspire much commentary about how the Lakers "found something" and will "make some adjustments" to set up a game two win. "If the Nuggets barely won despite Jokic having a historic triple double, then the Lakers are in great position, particularly considering how well the Lakers contained Jokic in the fourth quarter" is an example of how that narrative will be expressed. When analyzing playoff basketball--or any kind of basketball--it is important to distinguish between anomalous performances and performances that are the result of exploiting matchup/skill set advantages. For example, Jokic has demonstrated for quite some time that he can put up "big" triple doubles (as opposed to 10-10-10 stat lines that may be valuable but are not necessarily dominant); believing that Rui Hachimura is going to shut down Jokic for the rest of the series is not just very optimistic: it is delusional. On the other hand, there is no body of evidence supporting the hope/notion that Anthony Davis is going to consistently be aggressive against elite level competition without suffering an injury or becoming lackadaisical. In short, one can be fairly confident about predicting the broad contours of Jokic's game two performance, but one has little idea what to expect from Davis. If Davis is great again, then the Lakers will have a chance to win, but Davis being great two games in a row would be surprising, to say the least.

The good news for the Lakers is that they traded future Hall of Famer Russell Westbrook for the "tremendous trio" of D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley. Surely those players had a great game one and will be major contributors throughout this series, right? Let's check out the boxscore:

Russell: eight points on 4-11 field goal shooting, game-worst -25 plus/minus number. He was the only Laker starter who did not play a minute in the fourth quarter. 

Vanderbilt: zero points on zero field goal attempts in 10 minutes. 

Beasley: DNP-CD (Did Not Play--Coach's Decision).

If someone argues that trading Westbrook freed up minutes for Austin Reaves, that may be true--but that truth says more about either Coach Darvin Ham's rotations or LeBron James' influence on those rotations than it does about Westbrook's skills or impact. If someone argues that Rui Hachimura was a valuable midseason acquisition, that is true--but Hachimura was acquired before Westbrook was traded, so the Lakers could have benefited from Hachimura's skills while also keeping Westbrook (who plays a different position than Hachimura, and who performed well alongside Hachimura when both played for the Washington Wizards).

If someone argues that trading Westbrook for Russell, Vanderbilt, and Beasley improved the Lakers then that person is either not watching the games with understanding, or that person is so committed to an anti-Westbrook narrative that reality cannot possibly make a dent on the fantasy world that he has constructed.

I picked the Nuggets to win this series, and nothing that happened in game one caused me to regret that prediction. Based on what I have seen of the Lakers, I would add that if the Lakers win this series it is much more likely that they will do so after cutting Russell's minutes and role than that they will do so with Russell having a positive impact. It is obvious what Coach Ham thinks of the three players who the Lakers acquired for Westbrook: Beasley rarely leaves the bench, Vanderbilt now gets cameo appearances, and Russell is--at best--the third guard behind Reaves and Dennis Schroeder, and it would not be shocking for Russell to fall behind Lonnie Walker IV in the rotation as well.

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 1:50 AM



At Wednesday, May 17, 2023 2:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's exactly what the commentators are saying now - Lakers figured something out! I actually think it was good for Denver that the game finished close ... they will be on full alert for Game 2. Plus the Laker adjustment has already been shown.

I haven't really heard too much about the Westbrook narrative recently though, seems pretty obvious that the biggest move was AD getting healthy and playing hard. His performance in the LAC / Denver series should have quieted the haters.

At Wednesday, May 17, 2023 9:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is difficult for even ardent trade supporters/Westbrook haters to bring up the trade as much now that Beasley's middle name is DNP-CD and that Vanderbilt's playing time has been slashed as well, while Russell's role is also shrinking. However, I still hear commentators suggest that Rob Pelinka is the Lakers' MVP and that getting rid of Westbrook saved the season, though the latter narrative is now being shifted to suggesting that the move opened up playing time for Reaves as opposed to the original narrative that Beasley and Russell are "lasers" while Vanderbilt is the modern day Dennis Rodman or Bruce Bowen.

The reality is that the Lakers did not get much value for Westbrook, and this trade is going to look even sillier if Westbrook is a very productive starting pg next season for a Clippers team that finishes ahead of the Lakers--but if trading Westbrook was necessary to appease LeBron then perhaps the Lakers had little choice, though that provides some insight regarding why the Lakers have been mostly unsuccessful outside of the "bubble" during LeBron's tenure with the team.

At Wednesday, May 17, 2023 11:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Lakers found something late in second half I expect them to exploit.

Rui on jokic will force him to become a scorer. And leave Aaron Gordon in dunker spot

Ad played well, Bron, reaves, rui

Russel wasn't good, Schroeder or lonnie either

Jokic was great, Murray, mjp, Gordon, kcp, Bruce brown

All scored at least 16

Denver played as well as they could and won by 6

The Lakers are the better team and will win this series in 6

I don't think if Lakers kept Westbrook they be here, or he be playable here

D Angelo Russel put up the same numbers as Russel, and both aren't good defenders

Westbrook shot 40 percent against phoenix with a 3-18 and 3-19 game

Clippers may not resign him and they had no choice to play him that many minutes, cause George and leornard was hurt.

On a mediocre team or bad one Russ can put up numbers and team will lose

On a good team he unplayable

Too many turnovers, he can't shoot, and plays no defense

Russel a better fit

Plus it opens up getting more minutes to reaves and rui who are better on Lakers than Russel would ever be

Russ would of pouted and wouldn't of been playable in this series

On a good team or championship one

He not playable

At Wednesday, May 17, 2023 11:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I predicted, it would not take long for pundits to say that the Lakers "found something." I am not surprised that you are just repeating that mantra.

The Lakers found a loss. They trail 1-0, and teams that trail 1-0 lose the series about 80% of the time.

The Hachimura on Jokic matchup is not sustainable for the Lakers. Jokic is too big and too skilled for Hachimura. If the Lakers stick with that matchup, Jokic will get Hachimura in foul trouble.

I don't agree that the Nuggets played as well as they could, at least for the entire four quarters; they had some lulls with correctable miscues. The Lakers probably played about as well as they can, though. I doubt that Davis will have another 40 point game. Reaves maxed out. LeBron did about as well as he can at this stage of his career.

Westbrook averaged 24-7-7 in the 2023 playoffs. None of the players who the Lakers acquired for Westbrook are likely to put up that stat line in one game, let alone a series. Westbrook started for the Clippers immediately. He plays a different position than Kawhi and PG, so their injuries did not affect his minutes.

Westbrook has been an All-NBA caliber player on one NBA Finalist and four WCF teams. It is demonstrably false to say that he cannot be an important player on a winning team.

The Lakers could have played Rui and Reaves alongside Westbrook.

Westbrook never pouted, even after LeBron's media buddies trashed him. You are just grasping for straws as it becomes obvious that my initial take about the Westbrook trade was right. Coach Ham's rotations prove that he agrees with me regarding the limitations of the "tremendous trio."

At Wednesday, May 17, 2023 1:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Nuggets have only scored more points in regulation than they did last night 5x in the regular season and not once in the playoffs. They shot 55%, 47%, 77%. Overall, A+ shooting/offense. Their defense was great for the 1st half, not so much in the 2nd half. Sure, they could've played better but barely, but every team every game can always play better. The Lakers have been a top 3 team in the league since their trades. The Nuggets held on, which is all that matters after game 1. But, they did look extremely shaky down the stretch. The Nuggets almost blew a 20-pt. lead with 15 minutes left. If James' 3 in the final minute goes in, which it almost did, game is tied and Nuggets likely lose. They literally barely hung on. If they didn't, Lakers likely win this series.

The Nuggets are a good team, not a great team. They'd be one of the worst title teams ever if they happen to win. Their path to the Finals is ridiculously easy, especially for a #1 seed. They only have to beat a 42-win team, 45-win team, and a 44-win team.

As far as Westbrook, he's still a good player. But, he's only won 1 playoff series sans Durant over 8-9 years. He was once an important player on winning teams, but that is no longer happening. Could he still be? Probably. Maybe as the 4th or 5th best player on a good team. Obviously not all his fault for what happened with the Lakers, but he was a bench player with the Lakers, who were out of the playoff picture when he was traded and now they're in the WCF. So, if you think Ham's rotations prove your point about the limitations of the tremendous trio, his usage of Westbrook off the bench and in a lower role must also prove how lowly he thought of Westbrook.

At Thursday, May 18, 2023 1:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Are the Lakers a great team after the trades? If so, then the Nuggets' path is not "ridiculously easy." If the Lakers are not a great team, then what did the trades accomplish? Are the Lakers building for the future with a 38 year old LeBron and a brittle AD?

Also, the Nuggets have no control over how easy or difficult their path is. They were the best team in the West for most of the season, so they earned whatever path they are getting based on outplaying all of the other teams during the regular season and not being upset in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Nuggets would not be a an all-time great championship team, but with a two-time MVP in Jokic, an All-NBA caliber guard (when healthy) in Murray, and other very good players such as Gordon and Porter Jr. they are not a "weak" championship team.

Westbrook's career playoff averages are 25-8-7. He was never the reason that his teams lost the playoff series that you referenced. I have covered his playoff career extensively here at 20 Second Timeout, so I am not going to repeat all of that analysis here. If you buy the anti-Westbrook narrative, then good for you and I am not sure what value you find here.

Westbrook was third on the Lakers in scoring and first in assists when he was traded, so you are right that the way Coach Ham used him reflected Westbrook's value. The way that the media depicted Westbrook was false and unfair, but Ham considered him to be valuable and played him accordingly.

Havlicek and Ginobili are two examples of very valuable HoFers who spent substantial portions of their careers coming off of the bench.

In contrast, the more that Ham sees of the "tremendous trio" the less he trusts them and the less he uses them. Already, we can see the media narrative shifting from "the Lakers acquired two lasers and a great defensive player for Westbrook" to "trading Westbrook cleared the way for Hachimura and Reaves to play." Westbrook and Hachimura played alongside each other on a playoff team in Washington. Reaves' minutes did not have to come at the expense of Westbrook, and that was not how the trade was initially justified.

The media narratives are nonsense, but they apparently generate revenue so the public will continue to get the media coverage that it wants and deserves.


Post a Comment

<< Home