The Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers are facing off in the Western Conference Finals once again. Both teams fought hard during the regular season and into the first few rounds of the playoffs. Each team made some big changes that ended up paying off in big ways. Here are the changes for each of these teams.
Getting Rid of Russell Westbrook
The Lakers brought in Russell Westbrook last season, and right from the start, it was easy to tell that he was not going to be a good fit. Westbrook couldn’t make a shot to save his life and displayed a lack of basketball IQ. Before trading him away, the Lakers tried having Westbrook come off the bench. That had a positive impact, but it still was not enough. Eventually, the Lakers made a movie that sent Westbrook to Utah as a part of a multi-team trade. This was the trade that brought in D’Angelo Russell.
Bringing in D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell replaced Russell Westbrook at the trade deadline, and he immediately made an impact. Russell’s shooting was desperately needed to improve the Lakers’ offense. While Russell has been a bit inconsistent with his scoring, he is still a much better fit for the Lakers than Westbrook was.
Adding Defense + Anthony Davis Staying Healthy
In addition to Westbrook’s departure bringing in much-needed offense, the Lakers were also able to bring in more defense to take some of the weight off of Anthony Davis’s shoulders. Adding players like Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura definitely increased the level of defense for the Lakers. Vanderbilt is a bully-ball player that can have an impact in the paint against players like Jokic, Gordon, or MPJ.
At the mid-point of the regular season, the rest of the Lakers’ season was looking bleak. But, when they got rid of Westbrook and brought in more consistent offense at the guard spot (D’Angelo Russell) and better interior defense (Jarred Vanderbilt), the Lakers were able to make it into the play-in tournament as well as push all the way through to the conference finals.
Bringing in Veterans
While the Lakers waited until the trade deadline to make the changes necessary for success, the Nuggets made vital changes during the summer. During free agency, the Nuggets traded for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, as well as signed veteran big man Deandre Jordan. Having these players and the experience that they have is an incredible asset to have in the locker room. While Ish Smith and Deandre Jordan’s impact coming more from the bench, KCP has been having a great season. Caldwell-Pope has added even more range to this Nuggets offense as well as some much-needed defense.
Just like I noted above, the Nuggets were able to add some much-needed defense to their roster this season. In addition to Aaron Gordon stepping up in a big way and the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope trade, the Nuggets also brought in Bruce Brown. Brown immediately had an impact on the defensive end of the floor, fixing the one hole in Denver’s roster.
The Return on Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray finally returned this season after missing all of last season due to an ACL injury. Murray didnt seem to skip a beat, returning back to form in no time. Murray was as deadly from beyond the arc as he was before, and he was able to still drive to the basket as if he was never injured. As a cherry on top, as soon as the playoffs started, Jamal Murray got better. Playoff Jamal is a real thing, and it has been a highlight of the postseason so far.
The Denver Nuggets were able to fix their biggest issue this summer. Defense. By bringing in players like Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Denver stepped up their game on the defensive end. The addition of veteran players like Ish Smith and Deandre Jordan also helped the younger players get ready for the highly competitive atmosphere that comes with the NBA postseason. But, most importantly, Denver got their third star back in Jamal Murray.
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