The Denver Nuggets are the defending NBA champions, and along with the Boston Celtics, the co-favorites to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June 2024. Their opening test of the postseason is a familiar foe… the Los Angeles Lakers, who the Nuggets have faced in the Playoffs in three of the previous five postseasons. Behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers present all sorts of matchup issues for any opponent they face, and that would be the case even if LA didn't get to the free throw line at an historic rate. But they do, and in Game 1, the Lakers attempted 13 more free throws than the Nuggets.

But the Nuggets are the defending champs for good reason. With two-time MVP Nikola Jokic leading the way and a lights out supporting cast neatly falling into place behind him, Denver can win playing any style, in any building, in any situation, and even in a game when they are getting significantly fewer opportunities at the charity stripe than their opponent, as was the case last night.

Now as Tom Haberstroh points out, Game 1 was a legitimate anomaly, but Los Angeles shooting more free throws in a matchup against Denver is not a rarity at all. In fact, in this current nine-game winning streak that the Nuggets have against the Lakers, LA has shot 74 more free throws than Denver. In each of these nine games, LA has had the advantage at the free throw line, including every single game in the Western Conference Finals last year, a series which the Nuggets swept the Lakers out of the Playoffs and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

This interesting statistical note only strengthens an argument I've made about the Nuggets in the past — Nikola Jokic is perhaps the most scheme-proof player in the history of the NBA, and because he's so good and so difficult to craft a gameplan against, the Nuggets as a team are nearly just as scheme-proof.

Now this hasn't always been the case. Start chipping away at Nikola Jokic's supporting cast and suddenly the Nuggets start to look very beatable. There's only so much Jokic can do when he's going into battle with Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers and Bones Hyland and Facundo Campazzo, as was the case during the 2022 postseason when both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. were on the shelf. But with a full deck, it allows The Joker to run wild, no matter how many more free throw attempts Nuggets opponents are taking.