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Hey, we all know the NBA is LeBron James’ league. He rules everything. Not content to be the best player, King James is also the most influential roster-builder in the game. But that won’t stop the feisty, little Nuggets from giving James a noogie while trying to knock off the King’s crown.
“To be honest,” center Nikola Jokic said Thursday, “I don’t care about the Lakers.”
Although it was barely 65 days between Denver’s playoff elimination in the Western Conference Finals at the hand of the Lakers and the start of training camp in this crazy COVID-19 time, I missed the Joker. Didn’t you?
When I tried to ask Jokic to evaluate where the Nuggets now stood in their competitive relationship to the mighty, champion Lakers, he was having none of it. And that’s part of what makes Joker so endearing. Yes, Denver’s all-star center understands he is not James. But that doesn’t mean he has to kiss the King’s ring.
The warmest reason to smile on this chilly December day? Oozing pride and delight, newlywed Jokic scrambled to show off his wedding ring to journalists on a Zoom call. This dude is a treasure. We’re lucky to have him in Denver for reasons that go beyond all those triple-doubles.
But know what’s funny? Lots of folks in the NBA still have trouble taking Joker and his team seriously, despite a magical playoff run in the Disney bubble that saw Denver erase 3-1 series deficits to the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.
As the Clippers report to training camp, however, it seems the same players that got coach Doc Rivers fired still have trouble accepting their defeat against Denver.
“I think it hurt people being up 3-1,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris said. “It’s not about the losing, it’s about how we lost. And I think that’s the biggest motivation for this team, because at the end of the day, that team wasn’t better than us. We all knew that.”
The Nuggets don’t get no respect. So what else is new?
“Even now, they are talking about how Clippers lost, they don’t think about how Nuggets won,” said Jokic, who gave his views without knowledge about Morris’ low opinion of Denver. “We don’t care that nobody gives us some kind of whatever, respect. We’re going to be there. We were in tough situations last year. We fight.”
Before their championship banner could be raised, the Lakers went out and got better, adding talented veterans Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol to the band in La La Land. It seems the wily old King is building one last dynasty.
And the Nuggets? They got disrespected by free agent Jerami Grant, who dumped a championship contender in Denver for money and a bigger role in Detroit Rock City.
“Certainly was a bit surprising and disappointing,” said Tim Connelly, Nuggets president of basketball operations.
When the predictions start rolling in, we know Denver won’t be favored to make a return trip to the Western Conference Finals. Don’t expect the Nuggets, however, to curtsy in the presence of James, the Clippers or anybody else who blocks their path to a championship.
“Just because someone doesn’t give us respect, doesn’t mean that we take their opinions,” Jokic said. “We know what we’re capable of.”
Joker is the underdog in all of us.
In the world where he works, maybe the odds are stacked against him. But Joker doesn’t give a hoot.
“Are we going to be better? Are we going to be worse?” said Jokic, grateful to be healthy and hooping as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. “I’m just looking forward to see how we’re going to do this season, in all these weird times.”