Trail Blazers

A lot has changed since the Denver Nuggets last made the conference finals

Trail Blazers

The Nuggets did the improbable on Tuesday when they dominated the LA Clippers in Game 7 of their Western Conference semi-finals match-up.

The Nuggets trailed the Clippers 3-1 in the series, but were able to claw back thanks to incredible performances from stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

In Game 7, Murray dropped 40 points, Jokic had a 16 point, 22 rebounds, 13 assist triple-double, and the Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference Finals.

It's the first time the Nuggets have made it to the conference finals since 2009.

Back then, just like in 2020, they were advancing to face the Los Angeles Lakers.

A lot has changed since these two last met in the finals, and that includes more than one connection to the Trail Blazers:

- The Lakers entire team was built around the late, great, Kobe Bryant.

- J.R. Smith was a member of the Nuggets, but this time around he plays for the Lakers

- The series featured two all-time great coaches in Denver's George Karl and Los Angeles' Phil Jackson.

- Former Trail Blazers forward Stacey Augmon was an assistant on the Nuggets staff

- Current Kings head coach Luke Walton was a key rotational player for the Lakers.

Yeah, that was a different time in the NBA. It was only 11-years ago, but it seems like forever.

When you were watching this series at the time though, you would never have guessed that three of the most prominent players in the series would suit up for the Trail Blazers in 2019-2020.

 

 - Pau Gasol: Gasol, a future Hall of Famer, was the Lakers starting power forward that series. He averaged 17.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks over the six-game series. Gasol signed with the Blazers on July 25th, 2019. Unfortunately, a foot injury would force him to miss the season and the Blazer would waive him on November 20th. But Gasol was a Blazers for a short time in 2019.

- Trevor Ariza: In 2008-09, a youthful 23-year-old Ariza was in his second season with the Lakers. As the team's starting small forward, Ariza averaged 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 steals over the six-game series. In need of help on the wing, the Blazers would trade for Ariza on January 21, 2020. Ariza averaged 8.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 steals in 53 games for Portland. He did not travel to the NBA bubble in Orlando.

- Carmelo Anthony: Anthony was in his sixth season in the league in 2008, and was already one of the best players in the NBA. He was the face of the Nuggets franchise and led Denver to the conference finals for the first time since 1985. Over the six games against the Lakers, Anthony averaged 27.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 steals. Flash forward to 2019, and the Blazers were in need of help at power forward. They placed a call to Melo and on November 19th, the future Hall of Famer signed on the dotted line. Anthony played 58 regular season games for Portland, averaging 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He also averaged 15.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 steals in the playoffs.

It's just wild to look back and know that the 2009 Western Conference Finals would feature future Blazers. It almost makes you wonder, who in the 2020 Western Conference Finals could we see playing for Rip City by 2030?

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].