LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to move past Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 18, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
It was 2009 when Kobe Bryant led his Lakers to a win over Carmelo Anthony’s Nuggets when both teams last met in the Western Conference finals. Who will have the biggest effect on the outcome of this year’s series?
Amine El Amri, Le Matin (Morocco): There is no doubt that the Los Angeles Lakers are the clear favorites against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. And there is even lesser doubt that LeBron James will lead the franchise and carry its ambition to win their 17th NBA championship. James’s collaboration with Anthony Davis and his other teammates is working just fine, even if some critics have complained about the Lakers being nothing beyond efficient. Obviously, underestimating the Nuggets would be a huge mistake. We saw what happened with the Los Angeles Clippers. And although many people would give credit to Jamal Murray’s prolific run in the postseason, and rightfully so, I’m convinced the main leader of this team is Nikola Jokić: he’s almost impossible to stop once he gets hot.
Nicasius Agwanda, Clouds Media (Tanzania): First of all, this should be a very interesting matchup. Denver has fully embraced the underdog tag and shall try to make history by going all the way to the finals, although it’s a high mountain to climb. It’s obvious that most people think of “king” James and “joker” NJokić as the two best players on both teams. But I’ll go with Murray and Davis as the two players who will decide the outcome of the series. Yes, James will get his and Jokić will continue mesmerising us with how he keeps transforming the way big men play, but it’s Murray and Davis who will need to be on top of their game for their teams to advance to the finals.
Refiloe Seiboko, Mail & Guardian (South Africa): In terms of leadership and impact, James is the x-factor for the Lakers. He has taken on the lion’s share of responsibility of getting the Lakers back to the top and has been successful this season. His team takes their cues from him and it has been well documented that he wants it all this year.
Rotimi Akindele, Beat FM (Nigeria): While they keep reveling in the stunning win over the Clippers that made them the first team in NBA history to come back from being 3-1 down in back-to-back playoffs series, this fantastic Nuggets outfit can’t afford to rest on its laurels as they get set to have a bubbly party with the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. And there is a weird fact of both teams making it to the conference finals after a decade. Who writes these scripts, by the way?
On the player that will have the biggest effect on this year’s series? They’ve got to come from the Lakers, and the player is James. He’s been huge this postseason, averaging a near triple-double in the playoffs, while continuously making his teammates better. I love the look of the Nuggets though, with Jokić, Murray and Michael Porter Jr all playing vital roles in their run for the finals, but there is this ever-present cutting edge associated with the Lakers. It appears they’ve finally found their mojo on both ends of the floor, with James getting solid support from Rajon Rondo, Davis and Alex Caruso, among others.
Woury Diallo, Le Quotidien (Senegal): I think this is James’s time. He is on the cusp of one of the biggest milestones of his career — reaching his 10th NBA finals – and will be looking for his fourth title with a third team. Following Bryant’s footsteps, James will be motivated. Winning the championship with the Lakers would be the best tribute he could pay to the one who gave his all to the city of Los Angeles.
Every week the African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer pressing questions related to the NBA playoffs.
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