We now know one of the teams that will take part in the 2020 NBA Finals, as the Lakers eliminated the Nuggets Saturday night. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were the stars for Los Angeles, which will make its first Finals appearance in 10 years next week. Denver, which erased 3-1 deficits in the first two rounds, has nothing to hang its head about and the future looks bright with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way. Below is a look at Saturday’s game, as well as Sunday’s injury report and the progress made by a Cavaliers rookie.
Lakers 117, Nuggets 107 (Los Angeles wins, 4-1)
Seventeen seasons and still going strong. That’s the best way to sum up what James has managed to do, aging like a fine wine while making his teams contenders nearly every year. He played the role of closer Saturday night, finishing the game with 38 points, 16 rebounds, ten assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in 40 minutes. The triple-double is the 27th of James’ postseason career, three off of the record currently held by Magic Johnson. LeBron shot 15-of-25 from the field and 7-of-8 from the foul line in Game 5, and he scored 26 points or more in each of the final four games of the series.
As for Davis, the left ankle that he sprained in Game 4 was no issue. He played 35 minutes, tallying 27 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers. Much was made about Davis’ rebounding numbers, as he grabbed a total of ten in the final three games of this series, but that should not be an issue in the Finals. Against Boston he grabbed 9.0 boards per contest this season, with the average being 8.5 per against the Heat. While there are areas in which both teams can make life difficult for the Lakers, I think Davis stands to have some favorable matchups regardless of who’s next.
Danny Green and Alex Caruso scored 11 points apiece, with Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma each scoring eight points. Caruso and Rondo were especially important in the conference finals, and given the number of versatile perimeter players throughout the Celtics and Heat rotations, those two will need to step up in the next round as well.
Not to be left out is Dwight Howard, who played a season-high 35 minutes Saturday and tallied nine points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. To say that Howard shut down Jokic in this series would be inaccurate, but he did manage to make things difficult for the all-NBA pivot at times. As a result he moved into the rotation while JaVale McGee, who played two ineffective minutes in Game 5, saw his role diminished. We’ll see how Frank Vogel handles the center platoon in the Finals, but Howard made a good case for himself in this series.
Jokic was once again hindered by foul trouble, as he picked up three fouls in the first half and only played eight minutes as a result. Denver was able to remain within striking distance, but not having Jokic on the court really hurt the Nuggets offensively. He would go on to play 30 minutes, finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and one 3-pointer. Jokic will once again be a first-round pick in all formats, and a case can be made for him deserving to go in the top-five.
I wouldn’t put Jamal Murray in the first round, but there wasn’t a player in the bubble who did more to improve his status around the league than the “Blue Arrow.” He put up two 50-point games in the first round, and helped lead the Nuggets to two comebacks from 3-1 deficits to reach the conference finals. Murray played 43 minutes Saturday, tallying 19 points, four rebounds, eight assists and one steal, while hobbled by bruises on his right foot and right knee (bone bruise). Changing his shoes during the game did not give Murray any additional comfort, but he managed to gut this one out. After providing fifth-round value in both eight- and nine-category formats this season, it’s very difficult to see Murray lasting past too far into third round ahead of the 2020-21 campaign (whenever it begins).
Jerami Grant had another solid outing, as he played 46 minutes and finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers. He proved to be borderline indispensable in this series, and Grant’s play throughout the postseason likely boosted his profile throughout the league. And he has a player option for next season, which means that he could be an unrestricted free agent. When asked about his thoughts on remaining with the Nuggets, Grant said that he was “definitely looking forward to it” but added the words “we’ll see.” He obviously has a big decision to make, as Grant is the kind of forward that any contender can make use of.
Also due to be free agents this offseason are Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee (both unrestricted) and Torrey Craig (restricted). One Nugget who will definitely be impacted by those free agency decisions is Michael Porter Jr., who tallied ten points, two rebounds and two 3-pointers in 17 minutes Saturday. Defensive lapses put a cap on his playing time for much of this season, but Porter’s offensive talents cannot be denied. I’m not sure I’d go as far as pegging MPJ as a top-50 fantasy option next year, but he may not be far off especially if Denver were to lose Grant.
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— No major names on the Game 6 injury report
Neither Boston nor Miami has any noteworthy names on the report with regard to the respective teams’ rotations. That means no Bam Adebayo, who re-aggravated a left wrist injury suffered in Game 3 late in Miami’s Game 4 victory. He made it through Game 5 without any trouble, so he’s good to go for Sunday. Gabe Vincent (knee) is listed as questionable for the Heat, but even when healthy he hasn’t been a rotation player for them. Heat big Chris Silva and Celtics wing Romeo Langford are the other two players on the report, and neither is expected to play again this season.
— Cavs rookie wing Dylan Windler making strides
Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was one of the biggest proponents of the plan that would give the eight teams that weren’t invited to the Orlando bubble an opportunity to hold their own in-market minicamps. And with good reason, as the “Delete Eight” may not get the chance to play meaningful basketball again until 2021. Young players are getting valuable reps, most notably (in the case of the Cavs) rookie Dylan Windler.
Windler did not play at all this season due to a stress reaction in his left leg that ultimately required surgery, and he’s managed to make a positive impression in the minicamp. Expected to contribute at both the shooting guard and small forward positions next season, Windler estimated that he’s currently “90-plus percent” healthy. Windler is a more than capable playmaker, as he can either score himself or set up others, and he’s a very good shooter as well. Having an efficient player on the perimeter would really help Cleveland, as inefficiency was an issue for the young guards currently in the rotation this season.
“He knows how to play. Super efficient. Can really shoot. He’s always around the ball. He hasn’t been hurt in his entire life, so it’s hard to be off that long,” Altman said. “He’s excited to be back, doing his thing and when that silky smooth 3-ball goes in we are doing little fist-bumps too. He still needs to get through this week healthy and his body needs to respond the right way and has to get to NBA games and compete there, but we’re excited about him.”