The Sooner the Better: Contrary to popular belief, the Nuggets should want to play the Lakers in Round 1

Feb 14, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) dunks the ball against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) in the third quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

*We interrupt the steady stream of whining in Denver to offer this difference of opinion.*

Not only is it likely that the Denver Nuggets will face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, but – in fact – they should want to.

I know, I know; the Lakers own the Nuggets in the postseason. In their respective histories, the Lakers are 7-0 against Denver when the two have met in the postseason. In total playoff games, the Nuggets trail by an embarrassing eight wins to 25 losses. In the span between 1979 and 2012, L.A. sent the Nuggets packing in the first round four times. If history is any indicator, the Nuggets want no part of the Lakers. First round, second round – ever, really.

And if mathematics and probabilities are your thing, the fear that Denver, currently fourth in the Western Conference standings, will match up with L.A., currently fifth, in Round 1 is – ehhemm – justified. According to Pro Basketball Reference, the Nuggets have an 85.3 percent chance of finishing either fourth or fifth in the standings, while L.A. has a 60 percent chance of finishing either fourth or fifth (53.7 percent to finish in the No. 5 spot). In other words, a Nuggets-Lakers, 4-5 matchup is currently the most likely scenario for both teams.

There is the school of thought that suggests it doesn’t matter. This theory puts forth the idea that if a championship is truly the end-goal, the Nuggets will likely have to play the Lakers “at some point.” As my friend Gil Whiteley likes to put it, “If you’re going to drink all day, you’ve got to start in the morning.” In other words, if winning a title is the only thing that matters, the road goes through L.A. whether that’s the first street out of the driveway or the last one en route to the final destination.

There’s certainly wisdom in that (and truth). But there’s an even better reason to want the Lakers early, rather than late:

The longer the Lakers last, the better they’ll get.

Right now, LeBron James, who suffered a high ankle sprain in March, isn’t even playing. It’s being speculated that he could return next week. Up until three days ago, center Anthony Davis was nursing an injury, too. He’s back in the lineup, but has been only sparingly, as the plan is to slowly ramp Davis’ minutes back up. One might assume the same strategy will apply to James once he returns.

Don’t look know, but the playoffs are set to begin in less than a month.

Regardless of how good the tandem of James and Davis might be, it’s fair to assume that there might be a little rust to be knocked off. Neither player has been playing, much less playing together. The only way to get in playoff shape, and well as develop playoff chemistry, is to play. Granted, neither James nor Davis are strangers to the postseason, so it’s not as if they’re starting from scratch. However, the term “midseason form” surely can’t apply to either right now.

Getting in “midseason form” takes time.  If James does indeed return to action next week, he’ll have just over two weeks to get in playoff shape. One might assume that even one of the game’s greatest players – especially at 36-and-a-half years old – could benefit from a little more time.

Thus, the Nuggets should want to face the Lakers A.S.A.P.

Last year in the Bubble, the Nuggets not-so-subtly maneuvered their place within the standings to obtain a first-round opponent that seemed most favorable. Last year that matchup was with Utah; this year is should be the Lakers, a foe that has put a halt to most – if not all – of the Nuggets potential title runs. The best shot Denver has to break that curse is to simply get it over with.

And this is the year to do it… sooner than later.