SAN DIEGO — The Los Angeles Lakers might have the Nuggets on their minds this week, but Denver coach Michael Malone said the defending NBA champions have nothing but respect for the Lakers and have turned the page from the Western Conference finals sweep of L.A.
Malone was asked Wednesday about how some of the Lakers talked about his team this week and how they have been motivated by trash talk from Malone and the Nuggets all summer.
“Oh, they’re talking about us? That was what, four months ago?” Malone said after practice at the Nuggets’ training camp at UC San Diego. “I can’t speak for anybody in L.A. But if they’re still worried about us, that’s on them.
“This is a new season, a new challenge, and it was a hell of a series against them. I know it was a 4-0 sweep, but all those games seemed like they went down to the wire. We have tremendous respect for that team. I have tremendous respect for Darvin Ham as a coach and the job that he did. But yeah, I don’t listen to any of that stuff. I don’t know what they’re saying, and if we’re on their minds, then I guess that’s on them.”
There certainly will be added spice to the season opener between the Nuggets and Lakers in Denver on Oct. 24. Lakers star Anthony Davis told Spectrum SportsNet during Monday’s media day that he found the trash talk from the Nuggets after their sweep of the Lakers to be “motivational.”
“There was just so much of that going on,” Davis said. “It was like, ‘All right, we get it, y’all won.’ But me and [LeBron James] had some conversations like, ‘We can’t wait [to play them again].'”
During the Western Conference finals, Malone said the narrative was much more about the Lakers than the Nuggets. After the sweep, Malone was asked whether he believed the Nuggets would be overshadowed by their Finals opponent — the Miami Heat — much like he felt about the national chatter being focused on the Lakers during the conference finals.
“If anybody is still talking about the Lakers in the NBA Finals, that’s on them. They’ve gone fishing. We’re still playing,” Malone said before the Finals.
At the Denver championship parade, Malone was introduced as “the Lakers’ daddy.” Also, during an interview on the “The Pat McAfee Show,” Malone joked that he was contemplating retirement after the win, a response to James telling ESPN he was considering retirement during the offseason.
Former Nuggets forward Bruce Brown, who signed with the Indiana Pacers as a free agent during the offseason, said on the “Run Your Race” podcast in July that it “never felt like we were gonna lose any game” when asked how close each contest was against the Lakers in the conference finals.
“I think everybody knows it was pointed at us,” Lakers swingman Austin Reaves said of the Nuggets’ comments after Tuesday’s practice. “They can do it indirectly if they want, but I think it was very obvious to the public eye. That’s why everybody was talking about it.”
James posted on his Instagram in June, without acknowledging Malone — his former assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers — by name: “I hear I’m on your mind that much, huh??? I mean I guess I see why … Enjoy your light but just know I’m the SUN.”
In addition, Ham joined the “This League Uncut” podcast the following month and said, “This s— ain’t over.”
Malone wasted no time on Monday’s media day saying that Denver is leaving last season in the past and focusing on trying to repeat. The Nuggets, however, will spend one more night celebrating their title when they receive their rings and raise the championship banner before facing the Lakers in the opener.
As to whether there is a budding rivalry between the Lakers and Nuggets, who have faced each other twice in the Western Conference finals since 2020, Malone said no.
“That’s not a rivalry,” Malone said. “I mean, you can’t play a team in the Western Conference finals twice in the last couple of years and think it’s a rivalry.
“When I think of rivalry, I think Boston-L.A. I think of the Knicks and the Miami Heat back in the day. But I don’t welcome it or not welcome it [with the Lakers]. I’m on 2023-’24. I’m not living four months ago.”