Lakers-Nuggets predictions, picks: Experts not unanimous on LeBron James winning the Western Conference finals
Denver is rewriting history after pulling off 3-1 comebacks in two straight series. Does it have any more surprises left?Denver will once again be the heavy underdog -- as our expert picks indicate -- but that's exactly where it wants to be. Budding superstars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have both played the "nobody believes in us" card already this postseason, with good reason, and the Nuggets are playing with nothing to lose. They face a tough task, however, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the well-oiled Lakers standing between them and their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
Dwight Howard’s antics after his Los Angeles Lakers won Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday may have helped motivate the Denver Nuggets. © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Seeing a part-time player such as Dwight Howard taunt them may have rubbed the Nuggets the wrong way.
The Lakers won the game 105-103 on a 3-pointer by Anthony Davis at the buzzer. According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, Howard broke away from the Lakers’ on-court celebration to taunt the Nuggets after the game.
2020 NBA Playoffs: Lakers vs. Nuggets odds, picks, Game 3 predictions from model on 61-33 roll
SportsLine's advanced computer model simulated Tuesday's Lakers vs. Nuggets game 10,000 times.Mar 4, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) reacts after scoring during the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
From Amick’s story:
“Go home!” he yelled over and over while laughing, jumping, pumping his fist and getting closer to the Nuggets’ side of the floor with every second. “Go home!”
Howard has been playing only 15.4 minutes per game this postseason and played only 13 minutes in Game 2. Seeing a part-time player such as Howard taunt them may have rubbed the Nuggets the wrong way.
Denver came out motivated in Game 3 on Tuesday night and won 114-106 to cut the Lakers’ series lead to 2-1.
Maybe next time Howard should look to the example Rajon Rondo set for how to react.
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Related slideshow: The NBA's best in-game dunkers (Provided by Yardbarker)
The NBA's best in-game dunkers
Outside of game-winning moments such as walk-off home runs or last-second Hail Mary passes, no sports incident causes fans to rise from their seats quite like a highlight-reel dunk. The Association’s best in-game dunkers do more than provide fans and sports broadcasts with incidents that go viral on a nightly basis. Just one posterizing slam can flip a game’s momentum and cause an arena filled with individuals who were previously sitting on their hands to become a “sixth man” for the home side. These are today's best in-game dunkers.
It was back in November 2018 when Milwaukee Bucks forward Pat Connaughton dunked into our hearts thanks to some unforgettable commentary from Reggie Miller. Anybody who scoffed when the 27-year-old was added to the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest had to eat their words after Connaughton flew over teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo to demonstrate his hops. As JR Radcliffe of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel documented, social-media users quite enjoyed Connaughton’s performance.
One of the many basketball-related things taken from us in March was the career resurgence of Dwight Howard. Superman may not take flight the same way he did in his prime, but he showed during a second stint with the Los Angeles Lakers that he can still bring the cape out for a ride now and again. His tribute to Kobe Bryant at the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest was spectacular.
We have to go back to 2019 to remember a time when Blake Griffin was terrorizing rims and would-be defenders since knee surgery made him a spectator before the start of 2020. Like Dwight Howard, Griffin isn’t the player of old these days, but we wouldn’t recommend attempting to get in either man’s way when they have some steam approaching the basket. Ask the Indiana Pacers about that.
Ja Morant was invited to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest, but the uncrowned 2019-20 Rookie of the Year politely declined. That’s a shame since the 20-year-old routinely finished fearless one- and two-handed jams during what is, as of the typing of this sentence, a shortened debut campaign. Morant’s playmaking abilities weren’t shocking to behold, but he likely amazed even the toughest defenders with his willingness to crash the rim seemingly whenever possible.
Larry Nance Jr.
Like father, like son. Larry Nance Jr. first began posterizing opponents while with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he has continued that tradition playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest, Nance honored his famous pops, but it wasn’t enough to propel him past Donovan Mitchell on that evening.
We understand if you missed out on some of DeMar DeRozan's better dunks during the 2019-20 season. After all, the San Antonio Spurs weren’t all that exciting. DeRozan repeatedly rocked rims in Spurs colors during the campaign, and he humbled poor Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors in January. Mr. Boucher may remain grounded the next time he sees DeRozan driving down the lane.
There is plenty to criticize about Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons even if he could win Defensive Player of the Year honors during the opening half of the 2020s. One can’t deny his incredible athleticism coupled with a wingspan that makes him uniquely unguardable once he leaves his feet near the hoop. Maybe one day, he’ll do more than joke about participating in a Dunk Contest.
Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have several things in common, one of which is that both found great success meeting LeBron James at the rim. James isn’t the only player to lose such a battle vs. Brown despite having the size advantage. Giannis Antetokounmpo may still have nightmares about previous encounters with Brown.
According to Bleacher Report’s Leo Sepkowitz, the Brooklyn Nets brought DeAndre Jordan to the Big Apple more because of his relationship with Kevin Durant than because of what he could offer Brooklyn in postseason games. The days of the Lob City Clippers are but a memory, but Jordan can still shake backboards with the best of them. Just wait until Durant is in the lineup and able to additionally open driving lanes for Jordan.
Even though the Andrew Wiggins experiment with the Minnesota Timberwolves was inevitably doomed before the start of the 2019-20 season, he gave the club’s fans handfuls of positive memories that didn’t include a plethora of winning. In his first game vs. the Los Angeles Clippers as a member of the Golden State Warriors in March 2020, Wiggins baptized 7-footer Ivica Zubac with a thunderous one-handed slam that gave Golden State supporters something to anticipate, assuming Wiggins is with the club next fall.
Terrence Ross cemented his name in history when he won the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest. As great as Ross was vs. air that night, he has also caused defenders to clear the way and concede buckets rather than end up on the wrong end of poster slams. How do you stop somebody who appears to float above the paint?
Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is a basketball cheat code, a 7-foot center who has a strong perimeter game and who can also dunk on any defender in the league if given only a step in the right direction. “The Process” may not want to “do a 180” during a competitive contest, but that shouldn’t let guys such as John Collins believe they can stop Embiid down low. Embiid should, however, do well to avoid certain post-dunk celebrations.
Don’t feel bad if you found yourself unable to keep up with everybody Kelly Oubre dunked on over the past several years. Tsunami Papi has torched many big names in the Association. Paul George, JaVale McGee and Giannis Antetokounmpo are among the handful of the players on Oubre’s list.
Even before Oklahoma City Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo flew over Shaquille O’Neal and hung inside the rim en route to winning the 2019 Slam Dunk Contest, he’d already built an impressive compilation of dynamic dunks. Unsurprisingly, he added to that list throughout 2019-20. Marquese Chriss won’t fondly remember this slam after he calls time on his playing career.
Nobody should have needed to watch Donovan Mitchell win the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest to know he’s one of the best in the business. "Spida" opened the 2019-20 campaign with a dominant showing vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he soared vs. a variety of other opponents until the league’s premature break. Nikola Vucevic made the right business decision in a one-on-one vs. Mitchell in December.
Here’s a scary thought for fans of teams other than the New Orleans Pelicans: What if Zion Williamson is even better than advertised? The rookie hit an impressive 6-of-13 three-pointers in 19 outings, and he often looked like a grown man playing against younger fellas during his best dunks. There’s plenty more of this in Williamson’s future.
Chicago Bulls fans have good reasons to feel disappointed these days. Guard Zach LaVine isn’t one of them even if he could be traded by the club during the upcoming offseason. The two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion deserves to be on a Mount Rushmore of the best NBA in-game dunkers of the 2010s, and the fact that he turned 25 years old in March tells us he’ll remain near the top of such lists for the foreseeable future, barring injury setbacks.
As Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob on Twitter) has documented over the years, the battles between Russell Westbrook and NBA rims are fascinating to follow. It sometimes seems as if Russ is angry at the buckets meant to house his slams, particularly when he puts extra oomph into his finishes. How did Mitchell Robinson or the New York Knicks and the rim hurt you, Mr. Westbrook?
What do you do to stop a 6-foot-11 reigning MVP who can play any position, including point guard, and who isn’t even yet at the height of his powers? It turns out not all that much. Giannis Antetokounmpo once jumped over a human to complete a dunk. The Greek Freak is unfair.
Derrick Jones Jr.
We won’t try to take away the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest title won by Derrick Jones Jr. in this portion of the piece. Besides, it’s not as if Jones wasn’t a worthy champion. Each of the previous few years provided Jones with ample opportunities to dunk all over the G League and NBA, and he has more than answered the challenge.
It’s easy to forget LeBron James turned 35 years old in December. You wouldn’t know that by watching his dunks from the past season-and-a-half. Whether he is emulating Kobe Bryant or throwing the hammer down on overmatched opponents, the King proved in 2020 that he isn’t planning on abdicating the throne while in his 30s.
We end with (who should’ve been) the rightful winner of the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest. Aaron Gordon may never become his generation’s Blake Griffin. It’s possible the forward and the Orlando Magic both would benefit from a clean break. Nevertheless, Gordon deserves to be recognized for his creativity, athleticism, strength and eagerness to attempt slams others would only envision when playing a video game. It would be a shame if he retired without at least one dunk trophy.
Dwight Howard was nearly ejected from Game 3 for remark toward official .
Howard picked up a technical foul early in the second quarter for tossing the ball in the air in frustration over a foul call. Then, when Jerami Grant went to the free throw line, Haynes says Howard said something in the direction of the officiating crew that prompted official Marc Davis to shout, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!” © Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports A run-in with an official almost got Dwight Howard booted from Game 3. It’s unclear what Howard said, but a second technical foul would have resulted in an ejection.