Ohm YoungmisukESPN staff writer4 minutes to read
DENVER – Sporting a new haircut Monday, Nikola Jokic will enter the Western Conference Finals with a new mindset.
Although this will be the second Denver Nuggets Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers since 2020, Jokic says this will be a new experience against a new team. Which is a good thing, because when asked what he learned from the Nuggets’ five-game loss to LeBron James and the Lakers in the bubble, Jokic said, “Honestly, nothing. I don’t remember that.”
Jokic definitely won’t recognize these Lakers. Since those teams last faced each other on January 9, the Lakers have moved on from Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverly, Kendrick Nunn, Juan Toscano Anderson and Thomas Bryant and have added Roy Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Jared Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba and Tristan Thompson.
Of the title team in 2020, only James and Anthony Davis remain.
“We didn’t play with that kind of Lakers [team]”So basically this will be a new team for us,” Jokic said. “Maybe everything is new, everything is different.
“They’re playing great in this qualifier. Since then [the trade] Deadline, they’re playing really well.”
Jokic also spoke glowingly of Davis, his hulking counterpart. This will be Jokic’s biggest test this postseason after facing Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert of Minnesota in the first round and Deandre Ayton of Phoenix in the second round.
“AD is a guard in a 7-foot-2 body,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “He’s able to handle the ball really well, and he’s capable of making mistakes, so you have to be conscious with your hands. He can hit that little wiggle on his shoulders, just his skill pack while he’s that big.”
Of course, the Lakers will have to face Jokic, who has added two MVP titles since they last saw him in the Western Conference Finals.
Jokic re-enters this game having lost three triple-doubles in his last four games against the Suns. He averaged 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists while shooting 59.4% from the field against Phoenix.
Jokic was always so great on the court, says Denver coach Michael Malone, but in the years since the bubble has matured.
“Nicola has just been the definition of greatness to me for a while now,” said Malone. “The consistency with which he plays, the level at which he plays is just like you sometimes. [But] He has changed. He’s married, he’s a father, and he’s matured.
“I’m sure the game kept getting slower for him. But he was great on the bubble. Jamal [Murray] He was great on the bubble and Nikola still does things that very few players in NBA history have ever done. The series he just came off against Phoenix averaging a triple-double was amazing.”
Jokic hopes the Lakers will see a different team from the Nuggets in a rematch to the Western Conference Finals as well. While it still has Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Jokic’s new-look team now includes veterans like Gordon, former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, and Jeff Green.
“We are more experienced,” Jokic said of the current squad. “We’ve been there before. Maybe we’re a little more, not focused, [but playing in] different environments [than the bubble]. So I think we’re just experienced, playing a little bit more together.”
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