The Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets have faced each other seven times in the NBA playoffs, dating all the way back to 1979.
Ahead of their upcoming eighth showdown in 2023, let's look back at those prior playoff series.
1979 Western Conference First Round
In 1979, the first-round of the playoffs was a best-of-three series. After the Nuggets won Game 1 and the Lakers took Game 2, it set up a pivotal Game 3 in Denver — this is the only time the Nuggets had ever previously had homecourt advantage against the Lakers.
The Nuggets all had their starters score in double figures, with David Thompson leading the way with 28 points. However, it was the continued scoring of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamal Wilkes and Adrian Dantley — who each had at least 23 points — that allowed the Lakers to win the series 2-1. L.A. lost in the semi-finals versus the eventual 1979 champions the Seattle SuperSonics, the final Sonics (and eventually Thunder) championship at the time of this writing.
1985 Western Conference Finals
In a best-of-seven series in the Western Conference Finals, the top-seeded Lakers beat the second-seeded Nuggets in 5 games. Alex English played extremely well for the Nuggets for three games, but was hurt and missed the final two. Despite the great individual efforts by English, however, the Lakers won two of the three games he was available in before going on to win the NBA championship versus the Celtics in six games.
1987 Western Conference First Round
Once again the Lakers and Nuggets faced each other in the first round. This time the Lakers were the first seed, and the Nuggets were the eighth seed. In 1987, the first round was a best-of-five series, and the Lakers swept the Nuggets in three games, winning two of the games in blowout fashion.
2008 Western Conference First Round
Now we’re in a totally different era from the first three playoff matchups between these two teams. This was the Kobe Bryant vs. Carmelo Anthony, a series of fires on and off the court, offensive juggernauts and duos.
In Game 1, the Nuggets almost didn't make it to the Staples Center on time as there was a fire on their team bus on the way to the arena. Nobody was hurt, and it didn't really seem to affect the Nuggets that much because Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony scored 30 each in Game 1. Pau Gasol, meanwhile, had a huge game 1 with 36 points, 8 assists, 16 rebounds and three blocks.
Game 2 was a Kobe classic. He scored 49 points and 10 assists in the victory.
Game 3 was another blowout, with the Nuggets only scoring 84 points. They only scored less than 84 points total in two games in the regular season, vs. the Rockets and Spurs, early on in the season.
Game 4 was close, but the Lakers ultimately secured a sweep. This was just the start of the Lakers vs. Nuggets matchups in this era, however. The 2008 Lakers would go on to the NBA Finals, but lose to the Celtics.
2009 Western Conference Finals
With a returning Andrew Bynum and a newcomer in Trevor Ariza joining with Kobe, Pau and Lamar Odom, the Lakers were primed to make a title run, but first they’d have to go through the new-look Nuggets, with Allen Iverson traded to the Pistons for Chauncey Billups and some added size with Chris Anderson. The focus of the offense was still Carmelo Anthony with a more defensive point guard in Billups, but one who could also score as well. It was looking to be a more competitive series than last year's sweep. And it was, but the Lakers still won in six.
Game 1 started with an offensive flurry, with Carmelo Anthony scoring 39 and Kobe getting 40, but what I remember this game for was the steal by Ariza to secure the win. This would be a running theme for this series.
Game 2 was a duel between the stars of the team in Kobe and Melo. Nothing else needs to be said. The Nuggets won.
Game 3 was interesting, as Kobe was putting the team on his back while the Nuggets had a well-balanced effort. However, while Kobe did get 41 points, he eventually did get some help from Pau and Trevor Ariza offensively and defensively. Once again, Ariza got the steal to close out the game for the Lakers.
The Lakers won at Staples and Nuggets won at the Pepsi Center in Games 4 and 5, respectively, but in Game 6 the Lakers just took care of business with a dominant, 119-92 win.
2012 Western Conference First Round
This series is close chronologically, but also far removed from the Melo era, as he went to the Knicks. This was the sixth-seeded Nuggets against the three-seeded Lakers, a young and rebuilding group featuring two bench centers that would eventually become Lakers. Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee.
The Lakers meanwhile had Mike Brown as a head coach and were running the Princeton offense, with Darvin Ham as an assistant coach on his staff.
Anyway, the championship core from 2010 was traded away and simply just mismanaged, while Kobe was on his last legs and putting everything on his back, and the only players remaining from that 2010 title core were Bryant, Bynum, Derek Fisher, Gasol, Luke Walton and Metta World Peace. Most of those were not great enough to make it further than the semifinals.
The series was closer than it had any right to be, but the Lakers’ struggles vs. young legs were a harbinger of how they would lose in the next round.
The Nugget series would go seven games, and while the Lakers won, they were just too out of gas, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the next round.
2020 Western Conference Finals
“Lakers in 5” was the running theme for the 2020 Lakers as they beat the Trail Blazers and Rockets, while the Nuggets were the kings of seven-game comebacks, winning their prior two series vs. the Jazz and Clippers despite falling behind 3-1 to start each. That set the stage is set for the Conference Finals.
The Lakers took Game 1, 126-114, with Game 2 a defensive matchup with a final score of 105-103 that featured an especially tight finish.
Game 3 was about Anthony Davis and LeBron James scoring 57 points combined and not getting much help, while the Nuggets were more well-rounded in their scoring with Jokic scoring 22, Murray with 28 and key contributions by Jerami Grant and Monte Morris with 26 and 14, respectively.
Murray was clutch in his play, composed in working the offense.
After Game 3 coach Frank Vogel made the first adjustment and started Dwight Howard over JaVale McGee and got the rotation essentially down to 9 players. The next two games, Davis and LeBron took turns scoring on this fragile Nuggets defense before closing them out in five, as was the case with the first three rounds of the playoffs in 2020.
The Lakers would go on to win against the Miami Heat in six games to claim their 17th championship.
Long story short, there is a lot of history to dig into in the mountains and lakes of history between these two franchises, and it will be fascinating to see this latest chapter.