Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone thinks the world should wake up to the greatness of two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic and his Nuggets teammates - who incidentally have a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
But if a media spotlight on the Lakers motivates his team, that’s OK too.
“Whatever we can use for motivation,” Malone said after the Nuggets erased an 11-point deficit to beat the Lakers 108-103 in game two at Ball Arena in Denver on Thursday.
That followed a 132-126 victory in game one, in which the Nuggets built a commanding lead only to find themselves fighting off the surging Lakers in the fourth quarter.
“You win game one of the (Western Conference Finals) and all everybody talked about was the Lakers,” Malone said.
“Let’s be honest, that was the national narrative, (it) was hey, the Lakers are fine. They’re down 1-0 but they figured something out. No one talked about Nikola who just had a historic performance.”
Malone noted that Jokic’s 13 career playoff triple-doubles put him third all-time behind Magic Johnson (30) and LeBron James (28).
“What he’s doing is just incredible,” Malone said of the Serbian star.
“But the narrative wasn’t about the Nuggets, the narrative wasn’t about Nikola. The narrative was about the Lakers and their adjustments.
“You put that in your pipe, you smoke it and you come back and you know what... we’re going to go up 2-0.”
While Jokic came through with yet another triple-double, it was Jamal Murray’s 23-point fourth-quarter explosion that carried the Nuggets past the Lakers on Thursday.
Murray said the top-seeded Nuggets are not concerned about being overlooked against the glamorous Lakers franchise led by the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and gunning for a record 18th NBA crown.
“The outside noise is the outside noise,” Murray said. “We’re the Denver Nuggets, we’re used to that.
“Even when we win, they talk about the other team. Same old, same old. It fuels us a little more and will be sweeter when we win the chip.”
Despite his bravado, Malone said the Nuggets were keenly aware as the series shifts to Los Angeles on Saturday that the hardest work remains.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Malone said. “You’ve got to win a game on the other team’s home court if you really want to do something in a series. We know how great that team is, especially on their home court.
“We’re not celebrating,” Malone said. “This is not cause for celebration. This is a cause to continue to dig deep and find ways to be better.”
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