Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets talks to LeBron James (23) of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of an NBA Conference Finals playoff basketball game on Thursday 24 September 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (AP Photo/ Mark J. Terrill)
What the Joker claims not to remember, the King refuses to ignore.
The last time the Nuggets and Lakers met in the Western Conference Finals, they were quarantined at Disney World and LeBron James was determined to bring a championship banner back to Disney Land for the first time in a row. decade. Los Angeles advanced in five games and then won the title.
“To be honest, I don’t remember,” Nikola Jokic said when asked what he learned from that experience.
What James remembers isn’t how many games the streak lasted, but rather the margin of error. He remembers a series in which no game was decided by more than 12 runs, one in which the only reason LA didn’t trail 2-1 was a buzzer beater from Anthony Davis.
“They’re better (than they were), but they were great then,” James said Monday, politely protesting questions about how Denver is now versus then. “And they are great now. Joker has two more years under his belt. Jamal (Murray) is back to his usual form after his injury. And the rest of those guys are playing outstanding basketball.
How well does LeBron think of the No. 1 seed in the West? He described the Nuggets with a “really” for every win he needs to muster in order to spoil Denver’s save date in the NBA Finals.
“They’re a really, really, really, really good team,” he said.
Player personnel aside, there’s one element of this game that differs from the COVID-19 bubble of the 2020 playoffs. This time around, James and the Lakers have to play up to four games out of their zone. comfort at altitude.
“It’s real,” James said. “You get tired much faster than you would if you weren’t in it. … About the first trimester. A little in the second. The good thing about a playoff series: you’re here for a few days.
Mutual respect was high between the Nuggets and Suns throughout their second-round streak, even during the most tense exchanges of play. Kevin Durant admired Jokic’s dominance in the loss, just days after multiple clashes involving the Denver center. Durant even pushed Jokic away from a Phoenix group at one point in Game 5, then called Jokic one of the all-time greats after Game 6.
The same courtesy seems to be the theme at the moment as the Lakers and Nuggets prepare for Game 1 on Tuesday (6:30 p.m. MT) at the Ball Arena. James praised former teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for his energy and reliability which is now a trait valued by the Nuggets. Lakers coach Darvin Ham called Denver bench player Bruce Brown an X factor.
“You have to be ready for this new wave (of Nuggets),” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “…I just think they’re a solid ball club. They know who they want to play. They have their two big dogs in Jokic and Murray, and they know who they are. They don’t try to draw extra attention to themselves. … They are effective. They are physical. They can play fast. They share the ball.
As for the remaining Nuggets core of this series of bubbles?
“More experienced,” said James, who averaged 27 points, 10.4 rebounds and nine assists per game in the 2020 Western Conference Finals. continue to grow as a franchise, as a team, and they did.”