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Nuggets turn disrespect into motivation

Forever forgotten, Denver looks different this postseason
Lakers Nuggets Basketball
Posted at 5:08 PM, May 19, 2023

DENVER — The Nuggets left the Ball Arena court on Thursday night knowing they would not be the story.

They opened a 2-0 advantage in the Western Conference Finals, following their script at home. And nationally, the narrative remains: the Nuggets did not win, the Los Angeles Lakers lost.

This story started 47 years earlier, when professional basketball hatched in Colorado. The Nuggets have never won an NBA title. Worse, they have never reached the NBA Finals.

It makes overlooking them permissible for national journalists, namely ESPN, because the Nuggets don't move the needle. There is no history. A battery of great players, yes, — David Thompson, Dan Issel, Alex English, Carmelo Anthony — but no banners.

Lakers Nuggets Basketball

Denver Nuggets

‘Put that in your pipe and smoke it’: Nuggets' Malone rips Lakers bias

Landon Haaf
10:25 PM, May 18, 2023

When the Nuggets toppled the Lakers in the opener, the bias reached levels of hilarity. If the oven-baked hot takes were to be believed, the Lakers suffered the greatest Game 1 loss ever.

From that game, they discovered all the answers would solve the Nuggets as easily as a one-colored Rubik's Cube. While Jokic worked over Anthony Davis — 15 plays 10-for-13 shooting — Rui Hachimura held the two-time MVP scoreless on two shots, while creating a pair of turnovers.

Denver Nuggets fans to national media: ‘Show a little respect’

It was an easy bridge for those who haven't watched Denver much — Salters, Lisa— to cross without recognition that Jokic is not only the Nuggets' best offensive player ever, but the smartest.

The Nuggets would adjust. They would offer a counterpunch — and they did. Their motto should be: It's us, not them.

The Nuggets are winning because it's what they have done all season, earning the No. 1 seed.

They are winning because Jokic is the league's best player — he hasn't paged Dr. Heimlich in the playoffs like the 76ers' Joel Embiid. They are winning because Jokic is more versatile than a pair of khakis. He dominated the first three quarters Thursday, then, understandably gassed, became a facilitator.

The Nuggets are winning because bubble Jamal is a thing again. Actually in a few weeks, there will no longer be a mention of bubble Jamal. It will be simply playoff Murray. He has four 20-point career fourth quarters in the postseason, Thursday's breathtaking performance a salve that ended the pain and disappointment of two lost playoffs due to a torn ACL.

The Nuggets are winning because they have a trusted bench player. Sure, the rotation shrunk to seven players in the second half Thursday — the stage was surprisingly too big for a frenetic Christian Braun on this night — but Bruce Brown made it work. Brown delivered attitude at altitude, finishing with 12 points and a plus-16 rating in 37 minutes.

The Nuggets are winning because they are tougher than year's past, and have matured enough to turn disrespect into nitromethane, not an excuse to play the victim.

NBA Finals Basketball

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets did so many incredible, historic things this postseason

Landon Haaf
1:28 PM, May 19, 2023

The Lakers will remain confident for Game 3. Why not? Like the Nuggets, they haven't lost at home in the playoffs. But there is at least pause for concern. The Nuggets beat them two different ways: first in a shootout, then in a wrestling match.

The Lakers had every opportunity to put away Denver on Thursday, and the Nuggets proved tougher to kill than a cockroach.

In a 10-point run that featured the Murray McFlurry, the Nuggets found enough clearance as LeBron James settled for threes (He has missed 19 straight in the fourth quarter this postseason).

The Nuggets know that everyone outside of Colorado believes the Lakers will even this series in Los Angeles. The Nuggets have no history to point to in this situation to scream otherwise, only pain and scars.

But when the Nuggets are still playing on June 1 — as I fully expect them to be — just remember it will not be because the Lakers lost, it will be because the Nuggets won.