For all the x-factors and adjustments, the Los Angeles Lakers' Round 1 series vs. the Denver Nuggets may simply boil down to what most NBA Playoffs series do: stars. In this case, will LeBron James and Anthony Davis outperform Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray?

Including the 2023 Western Conference finals, the Nuggets have won eight straight games over the Lakers. Five of those have come down to crunch time — usually when the Lakers seize control. Denver, though, has bamboozled Los Angeles (and everybody else) with its Jokic-Murray two-man game.

In the conference finals, Jokic and Murray outproduced LeBron and AD, through limited fault of the Lakers' stars. Davis was awesome but not quite Jokic-level. The Lakers had no defensive matchup for Murray (still TBD). LeBron was hampered by a torn foot tendon.

One year later, the Lakers are as self-confident as ever, winners of 12 of 15. They can use the underdog card. House money.

“In a much better rhythm, physically, emotionally, of all that,” a loose LeBron said Friday about his status heading into this series compared to last. “I was really banged up.”

LeBron, Davis (still dealing with back spams), and Rui Hachimura will split duties on Jokic — a task that comes with physical and intellectual challenges. (How they deal with Murray will be a massive decision by Darvin Ham.)

“He's seven-foot and two-hundred and whatever pounds he is,” LeBron said at practice in Denver. “Plus, he's physical. There's a lot of guys who are physical but don't possess the frame that Joker has, as well. And he's in great shape, too.

“You just try to make it tough. Here's very good at everything offensively.”


The 39-year-old flatly rejected the idea of finding a “balance” between banging with the Joker and maintaining excellence on the other end.

“What's the balance? I don't understand. You get it done or you don't. You either get it done, you try to move on, or you don't and go home.”

Of course, the Joker doesn't just feast in the halfcourt. The Lakers likely need to win the transition battle throughout the series to pull the upset — something that's happened surprisingly rarely in recent clashes.

“He has a great motor,” LeBron said about Jokic as a transition threat. “We know that. The players that play against him know that. That's just a media horrible narrative.”



As for where Jokic ranks among the all-time greats he's confronted in the postseason, LeBron pinpointed one specific quality in the presumptive 3-time MVP that, one can easily argue, is the most valuable skill in basketball. A skill LeBron is duly familiar with.

“He's one of the best players ever to play this game. It's that simple,” said LeBron. “The most important thing: He changes the way his teammates think about their own play. When you're able to inspire your teammates to play at a level that sometimes they don't even feel like they can play that? That's a true testament of a great one.”

“We have similar components to our game, what we bring to the table.”

Game 1 between the Lakers and Nuggets tips off at 5:30 p.m. PT at Ball Arena in Denver on Saturday. The table is set.