Apr 19, 2024 - Things to Do

The Lakers want the smoke. The Nuggets are ready to give it to them.

A man in a white jersey with the word NUGGETS and the number 15 on it holds an orange basketball while a man in a black jersey with yellow trimming tries to push up against the man.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić handles the ball against Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis in February. Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets have won eight straight games against the Los Angeles Lakers. Just don't mention it to head coach Michael Malone.

What they're saying: "That doesn't mean anything," Malone told reporters this week. "This is a different team, a different series ... It's going to be a hell of a challenge to beat the Lakers again in the playoffs."

State of play: Star center Nikola Jokić will lead the defending champion Nuggets against LeBron James and company in Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday at Ball Arena.

  • The last time these two teams faced each other in the playoffs, a trip to the NBA Finals was on the line and the Nuggets swept the Lakers.

The intrigue: When the Nuggets beat the Lakers on opening night, the crowd at Ball Arena began chanting: "Who's your daddy?" at Los Angeles — a callback to the Nuggets championship parade when Malone was introduced as "the Lakers' daddy."

  • After the Lakers secured the right to face the Nuggets this week, Los Angeles head coach Darvin Ham said his team "wanted all the smoke and we ain't ducking no fade."

Zoom in: Guard Jamal Murray is the team's second-most important player, capable of scoring and facilitating plays, but perhaps equally vital is forward Aaron Gordon.

  • The high-flying Gordon regularly cleans up missed shots with dunks. His near-telepathic relationship with Jokić means he's essentially automatic in finishing alley-oop passes from Jokic.

Between the lines: Jokić — on the brink of winning his third regular season MVP — leads the team in points, assists and rebounds per game.

  • He will need to win the heavyweight matchup against Lakers big man Anthony Davis, who is a force on defense when healthy.

The bottom line: The Nuggets are betting favorites to win the best of seven series, but the team is not resting on last year's laurels.

What's next: The game tips off Saturday at 6:30pm on ABC.

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