The Denver Nuggets can defeat LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the ghost of their postseason losses to the Los Angeles Lakers if they continue to dominate at Ball Arena.
The Western Conference finals begin Tuesday night in Denver with its fourth meeting. The Nuggets are NBA-best 40-7 at home and have won all six postseason games at Ball Arena.
“Maybe one of the best home environments in the league,” Lakers first-year coach Darvin Ham remarked. “Their crowd will be standing, stomping, screaming.”
The Nuggets have lost all seven playoff series against the Lakers, including the 2020 NBA bubble.
Michael Malone didn’t want to discuss Denver’s 8-25 postseason record versus the Lakers after a strong session Monday. In 2020, 2009, and 1985, the Lakers defeated the Nuggets in the Western Conference finals and two other times in earlier stages to win an NBA title.
“Getting to the NBA Finals is everything,” Malone added. “The Lakers make it probably that much more special for a lot of people that support us and if that’s going to allow Ball Arena to be that much more excited and crazy, then I’m all for it.”
Both teams like to push the tempo, but the Lakers may struggle due to altitude. Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ star, doesn’t think Denver’s thin air helps the team.
“We think it’s us,” Jokic added. “It’s not altitude.”
Jokic highlighted that the Lakers gained homecourt advantage by winning Game 1 against Memphis and Golden State in the first two rounds. “Hopefully, they won’t win it here,” Jokic remarked.
Jokic isn’t sharing any lessons from the Nuggets’ last playoff matchup.
“Honestly, nothing,” he said. “I forget.”
James remembers that, and now that Murray has returned from a right ACL rupture in 2021, he sees a more difficult opponent.
“They’re better,” James added. “Joker has two more years. Jamal has recovered from his injuries. The rest are playing great basketball. Excellent team.
“Every game, every postseason, every matchup allows you to continue to grow as a franchise, as a team, and they’ve done that,” James said. “We respect this team.”
James also admires Malone, his assistant in Cleveland for his first five NBA seasons.
“He helped me grow,” James added. “It’s great to see old friends and guys who have been part of my journey succeed.”
Malone feels fortunate to have coached James and Jokic, who share work ethic and selflessness.
You remove athleticism, which is noticeable. Malone said, “But their IQ, their feel for the game, seeing things before they happen, their ability to make everyone around them better” is practically similar. “Their characters. They’re pretty comparable players.
“It’s funny because it shows you there are many ways to be great.”
Ham had the ideal plan to restrict Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP who’s virtually averaging a triple-double through two playoff series.
Ham suggested kidnapping him as he left his residence.
In all seriousness, the Lakers will start Davis on him and rotate others.
In these playoffs, the Lakers have taken 290 free throws, 95 more than their opponents. However, Jokic stated the Nuggets don’t worry about fouls.
“We’re still aggressive,” Jokic added. “We’ll probably play like we did the last two rounds. Every game is physical.”