Anthony Davis tells Denver Nuggets to bring it on: ‘We’re not ducking the smoke’

Peter Dewey
4 Min Read
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis revealed what the team’s mindset is heading into the first round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.

“If they beat us, they beat us,” Davis told The Athletic. “We’re not ducking the smoke.”

The Lakers won their play-in tournament game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, giving them the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Los Angeles entered the play-in as the No. 8 seed, but it took down the Pels on the road behind solid games from Davis, LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell, who all scored 20 or more points.

Los Angeles lost to the Nuggets in the playoffs last season in the Western Conference Finals, but it doesn’t look like Davis and the Lakers are worried about that this postseason. Technically, the Lakers could have avoided Denver if they lost on Tuesday (the team would have then had a chance to play for the No. 8 seed), but the Lakers didn’t take any chances with their playoff fate.

Even though Los Angeles went 0-3 against Denver in the 2023-24 regular season, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham is excited at the opportunity to play the defending champs in the first round.

“Extremely (excited),” Ham said. “It’s an opportunity. It’s back to 0-0. Obviously, they’ve had a ton of success against our ball club, but there’s always a new day. … We feel comfortable, though. We like where we are, we like where the spirit of our group is. Everybody is chipping in and pitching in, excited about this challenge, this opportunity.

“And respect to Denver, they’re a hell of a ball club. There’s a reason why they’re defending champs. But we like our chances.”

It makes sense that the Lakers feel good about their chances against Denver in a playoff scenario, as they have one of the greatest playoff performers of all time in James on their roster.

Plus, even though they were swept in the Western Conference Finals last season, Los Angeles was in every game, losing by six, five, 11 and two points.

“It’s the defending champion,” James said. “They know what it takes. They know how to win. They’ve been extremely dominant on their home floor over the last few years. They’ve got an MVP on their team. They’ve got a closer on their team. They’ve got high-level players, high-IQ players. And they’ve got a hell of a coach.

“So we have to play mistake-free basketball. Make it tough on them. They’re gonna try to make it tough on us, obviously. But if we can play as great of a game as we can play, and they’re gonna play as great of a game as they play, it’s gonna come down to one or two possessions. And we’ll see who executes then.”

During the regular season, the Lakers suffered losses of 12, eight and 10 points to Denver. It’s certainly a tough matchup to deal with stars like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, but the Lakers have played some great basketball down the stretch of the 2023-24 season.

In the last 10 games of the regular season, Los Angeles ranked No. 10 in the league in net rating. The Lakers also shot the ball well over that stretch, ranking third in the NBA in effective field-goal percentage.

The Lakers made a run from the No. 7 spot in the West last season, and it appears Davis, James and Ham are confident that the team can find that form again this postseason.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.