June 13, 2024

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The Denver Nuggets sweep the Lakers and head to the NBA Finals

The Denver Nuggets sweep the Lakers and head to the NBA Finals

LOS ANGELES — The Denver Nuggets are heading to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history after finishing with a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals with a 113-111 win on Monday.

The Nuggets pulled off a dying gasp from the Lakers, who kept their season alive for weeks after it was supposed to end. “I thought we fought as hard as we could fight,” said Lakers coach Darvin Hamm.

Now, Denver awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Miami Heat leading 3-0 over the Boston Celtics. Game Four in the East is on Tuesday in Miami.

For the Nuggets, Monday’s win capped a years-long process as their key players grew together, overcame tough injuries and faced questions about their ability to compete even in the West. The team’s MVP, Nikola Jokic, won the league’s Most Valuable Player award twice, but could only reach the Conference Finals once.

Jokic was named Western Conference Finals MVP.

Denver lost superstar Jamal Murray in April 2021, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the day after the injury that Murray tearfully asked if the Nuggets would trade him, calling himself “damaged goods”.

“I hugged him,” said Malone. “I said, Hell no, you’re ours. We love you. We’ll help you come back, and you’ll be a better player for it.”

Murray missed the rest of the season and all of the 2021-22 season. In this year’s playoffs, Denver’s patience has paid off.

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Murray began to look like the player he was before the injury and Jokic continued to play at an elite level, perfectly complemented by Denver’s squad of talented players.

The Nuggets rose to #1 in the West in December and never got out of the top spot. In the playoffs, they beat the Timberwolves, 4-1, in the first round and the Phoenix Suns, 4-2 in the second round. Despite Denver’s dominance all season, the odds makers did not favor winning the championship. Nuggets have embraced it.

“We’re the underdogs,” said guard Kentavius ​​Caldwell-Pope. “We don’t get enough credit for what we do.” He continued, “It’s not being talked about too much, we take it personally. We just use that energy, and keep proving everybody wrong.”

Even after the first two rounds, some thought the Lakers were dangerous enough to be the team that eventually turned the Nuggets on their head.

This confidence in the Lakers has only developed during the playoffs.

For a while, the Lakers seemed doomed due to roster problems and injuries to their stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

They started the season with a 2-10 record. In December, as the Nuggets were cementing their place atop the West, the Lakers were in 13th place.

But changes to the trading deadline in February helped. The Lakers shipped Westbrook and brought in two innings players – Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley. They also traded Rui Hachimura in January.

They rose to seventh place in the West by the end of the regular season, and beat Minnesota in overtime in Championship Play to secure the seventh seed in the playoffs. In the first round, they calmed a rowdy Memphis team, who had spent most of the season in the top three in the West, by defeating them 4-2. They then upset the defending champion Golden State Warriors by a score of 4-2 and dominated them in the second round winning game.

And all the while, Hamm, their first-year coach, reminded them that few people expected them to even make the playoffs.

But the Nuggets turned out to be a different kind of opponent. They were more cohesive, less dramatic, and stronger in center than Memphis and Golden State.

In the Lakers’ first two series, their opponents have verbally snapped at them, whether it’s Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks calling James, 38, or the Warriors accusing them of flopping for favorable calls. The Nuggets took a different approach, showing respect off the field right up to the end.