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Nuggets push for game seven with an eye on the prize

The Denver Nuggets know all about facing adversity. Pulling off an incredible win with a seven-man rotation victory against the Utah Jazz earlier this season, coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Jazz in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and now the Nuggets are forcing a game seven against one of the top teams in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers. After being down by at least 15 in back-to-back games, the Nuggets are getting used to having their backs against the wall.

While the Los Angeles Lakers are hanging at the pool in the Orlando National Basketball Association Bubble, the Clippers and Nuggets are battling out to see who will advance to the Western Conference finals. The winning team will be awarded the challenge of playing against the number-one seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

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The Lakers are a star-studded team that has crushed their side of the playoff bracket, dominating both of their previous series opponents 4-1. The Lakers have made these playoffs seem easy and may have changed the minds of many NBA fans who already decided the Clippers would make the finals.

The Nuggets do not have the star power that the Lakers or Clippers do. While Nikola Jokić is arguably the best center in the league, his counter-part, Jamal Murray, has not quite reached stardom yet. While Murray has made history with multiple 50-point games in the first-round matchup against the Jazz, he has not proved he can be consistent — scoring under 20 points in half of the games this postseason. He is close, but not there yet.

For the Nuggets to win, they need to have a strong game by Jokić and Murray. No, Murray does not need to score 50 points. It would help though. Anything over 22 would have the Clippers shifting more defensive pressure off Jokić.

Gary Harris needs to step up on offense — if he cannot do that, he needs to play exceptional defense. It would help if he could be more than a non-factor on the offensive side, but his defense has been great for the Nuggets. If he cannot make it work offensively, he needs to focus on distributing the ball and being a solid defender. 

https://twitter.com/nuggets/status/1301216438728916997

Strong third quarters have been key for the Nuggets. In the win in game five, Paul Millsap ignited a run for the Nuggets in the third quarter. The Nuggets outscored the Clippers 29-24 and carried this momentum to the fourth quarter. Similarly, in game six, the Nuggets were trailing the Clippers 63-47 at the half, but a strong third quarter — they outscored the Clippers 30-16 — provided momentum for a comeback win.

The Lakers have shown how dominant they can be this postseason. Beating the strong Houston Rockets in four of their five games seemed almost effortless for them. The Clippers, with their struggles against the Nuggets, may be showing they are not as dominant as many thought. Many thought this would be a 4-0, 4-1, or 4-2 series and not going seven games.

WCF Predictions

Lakers vs. Clippers

This series will likely go six or seven games, most likely seven. Although the Clippers are struggling, they still have Kawhi Leonard, who is debatably a top-two player in the NBA. However, the Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis who have proved to be the most dominant duo in the league. Based off the Clippers’ Western Conference semi-finals, the Lakers will win this series 4-3 to advance to the NBA finals.

Lakers vs. Nuggets

The Nuggets were not supposed to make it this far but have somehow defied the odds, proving they are a lot stronger than they’re given credit for. Out of all the teams in the playoffs, this Nuggets team has proved they have a lot more heart than anyone. However, it is unlikely the Nuggets can pull off yet another miracle against the star-studded Lakers. This series might make it to game six or seven, but likely it will be a 4-1 Lakers series victory to advance to the NBA championship.

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Tyler Meguire can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @TMeguire.

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