3 Adjustments Nuggets must make to take stranglehold of series

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets /
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Whew! The Denver Nuggets survived a close one Tuesday night, 132-126, to take a 1-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers.

After three quarters of looking unstoppable, the Nuggets’ offense dried up in the final frame after the Lakers made a tactical adjustment. Rather than having Anthony Davis guard Nikola Jokic, Lakers coach Darvin Ham moved Davis to Aaron Gordon and had backup power forward Rui Hachimura guard Jokic.

To say it worked well would be an understatement.

Per Dave McMenamin at ESPN:

"On 55 Denver possessions when Davis was the final defender on Jokic, the Nuggets averaged 1.45 points per play and shot 66% from the field, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. There was a stark difference with Hachimura as the final defender on Jokic: Denver averaged just 0.67 points per play in 15 possessions and shot 20% from the field."

Hachimura was quick enough to bother Jokic on the perimeter, and while Jokic could dislodge him down low, Davis was always lurking nearby.

But late-game offense wasn’t the only problem for Denver. Defensively, the Nuggets were not particularly effective at any point in the game — the offense was just so good to start that it overshadowed the Lakers’ own success on that end. But like my toddler’s breakfast, Jamal Murray was toast when having to guard LeBron. And nobody on the Nuggets was able to slow Anthony Davis in any way.

But a win is a win, no matter how hideous. The Nuggets took some of Los Angeles’ best blows and survived, and they now have a day to gameplan effective counters. Here are three adjustments the Nuggets need to make to win Game 2.

1) Give Aaron Gordon something to do

The key to the Davis/Hachimura switch’s success: Aaron Gordon continually posted up in the dunker spot near the hoop, allowing Anthony Davis to play free safety without any repercussions.

If the Lakers try a similar matchup next game, plenty of counters are available. First, Gordon is a good positional ballhandler and passer; the Nuggets should let him initiate more offense. He has experience running the pick-and-roll from his Orlando days when he often acted as a point forward. Although not a shooting threat like Jamal Murray, he’s more than capable of bringing AD into the action and working the two-man game with Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets should also send Jokic into the deep post and station Gordon high on the wing, not the corner. Once Jokic has established position, Gordon should be able to make the entry pass and aggressively cut, forcing AD to respect Gordon as a threat and giving Jokic more room to work.

If Davis won’t pay attention to Gordon, AG should weaponize himself as a screener like Draymond Green. The Nuggets tried this once toward the end of the game when Gordon set a pin-in screen for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He missed the shot. But it was a great look and something we’ll see more of if the matchups stay the same.

One thing the Nuggets should avoid: stationing Gordon in the corners. Gordon shot 41% on above-the-break threes but just 25% in the corners, and it’s far easier for Davis to help in the paint if Gordon is in the corner, anyway. The Lakers will happily cede Aaron Gordon corner threes if it means stymieing Jokic’s paint dominance.

(Side note: it sure looked like the baseline spin was open for Jokic on some of these Jokic-on-Hachimura post-ups. Jokic seemed to want to go over his right shoulder right into Davis, and I’m not sure why he didn’t just spin back left for a hook or baseline drive.)