What, so they’re supposed be scared of LeBron now?
They’ve danced with the devil for so long, their souls have blisters. They sent Kawhi Leonard packing after he had ‘em in a 3-1 chokehold. They survived Donovan Mitchell turning Disney World into his own personal Pop-A-Shot.
They put up with Charles Barkley kicking them when they were down. They endured Shaquille O’Neal butchering their names (M-U-R-R-A-Y, my man) while they were up.
“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone declared after his Nuggets cudgeled the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-89, punching their ticket to the NBA’s Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009. “And I think we’ve proven that time and time again.”
No fear. No capitulation. No shortcuts. No prisoners. In the first round, Malone’s Bad News Nuggets became the first squad in franchise history to win a postseason series that they trailed 3-1. In the second round, they became the first roster in NBA history to advance twice in the same playoff bracket despite opening each series with a 3-1 deficit.
What, so they’re supposed to be awed by Anthony Davis now?
“Nobody wants us here,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after his triple-double in Game 7 set up a rhubarb with LeBron James, AD and the Los Angeles Lakers starting Friday. “Nobody thinks that we can do something. We proved to ourselves, proved to everybody (that) we can do something.”
They took Patrick Beverley’s best shots and Mike Conley’s last shot. They were down 16 points to Paul George in Game 5. They got down 19 in Game 6. They trailed by 12 on Tuesday night.
What, so they’re just supposed to roll over now and let King James scratch their bellies?
“When we went down to Utah, they thought we were done,” said Nuggets guard Gary Harris, who averaged 15 points, four boards, and 2.5 steals in Games 6 and 7 of the Western semis. “They thought we were done against the Clippers.
“We don’t listen to outside noise. We know what we have here. We have a very talented group. If we play together and stick together, the sky’s the limit.”
Nobody wants ‘em here? Tough.
They’re playing with house money now. The Nuggets are loose and loving life, the Cinderella of the bubble ball. While the national wonks were transfixed with the two Los Angeles franchises, Boston, Milwaukee and Miami, a young Denver roster — the average age of Jamal Murray, Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., Malone’s top three postseason scorers, is 23.3 — swooped in and ambushed the narrative.
What, so they’re supposed to be satisfied now?
“Our goal was never to get to a Game 7,” Malone stressed. “Our goal when we started this whole season was to a win a championship. And as outrageous as it may sound to people outside our group, we never lost sight of that.”
When you’ve played the underdog card as masterfully as Malone has for three weeks, why stop now? The Nuggets have never beaten the Lakers in six postseason series. The head-to-head details are even more brutal: Denver’s posted a 7-21 mark in 28 playoff meetings, landing on the wrong end of two L.A. sweeps.
Although if we’ve learned a whit from this madness, it’s that there’s a first time for everything. Twice over.
“I do know this,” Malone said. “Our guys are up for that challenge.”
Immediately after Tuesday’s contest, while interviewing Jokic and Murray on the court, Nichols rattled off the hurdles the Lakers presented. The Blue Arrow, towel draped around his neck, appeared to bristle. Then he did what he’s done for a month.
Dude fired right back.
“They’ve got to worry about us, too,” he replied.
Dang straight. Dang. Straight.