The theme for LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers heading into their rematch with the almighty Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs? There is no theme.

“It shouldn't be personal at all,” LeBron said at Lakers practice on Wednesday. “You allow yourself to get away from the gameplan if you make it personal. We do have a game plan. We'll go out there and execute it. And you live with the results.”

Including last year's sweep in the Western Conference finals, the Lakers have lost eight straight games to Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. Typically, the Lakers' ideal recipe to success is to keep games close, then let LeBron and AD control crunchtime. It works against 28 teams.

“I just stay even-keeled out there.” LeBron continued. “I've been in the postseason way too long in my career to know that you don't get too high off Game 1 or get too high over whoever the matchup is.

“…There's gonna be a lot of plays throughout the course of a game, the course of a series. How long can you keep your mind even-keeled?”

The most recent Nuggets-Lakers clash, at Arena on March 2 — with both squads more or less fielding their Round 1 rotations — encapsulated their recent history: The Lakers hung tough, only to succumb to the Jokic-Jamal Murray two-man game. Denver pulled away, 124-114.

“It's a great team that we're playing against,” said LeBron. “A team that's been in a lot of big games. Knows what they want to get to late in games. We just have to be very disciplined.

“It's gonna be challenging, but that's what the postseason is all about.”

D'Angelo Russell looms large against Nuggets

Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) celebrates against the Atlanta Hawksin the second half at Arena.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers' crunch-time success will largely hinge on D'Angelo Russell. In the '23 WCF, DLo was targeted and ultimately played off the floor by Denver, culminating in Dennis Schroder starting Game 4.

Russell has forcefully responded with his finest season. His smoke-chasing has fueled the Lakers' offensive resurgence.

Once again, though, Darvin Ham must decide whether DLo's playmaking and shooting outweigh his defensive limitations against the Nuggets' closing unit. Or, whether to go with Spencer Dinwiddie, Gabe Vincent, or (gulp) Cam Reddish over DLo, who averaged 18.0 points and 6.3 assists on 41.5% 3-point shooting in 76 games.

“DLo is in an incredible space,” Ham said at practice. “Kicking a– for us. And we expect him to do the same.”

Russell joined LeBron in downplaying the narratives.

“The same as it was against (the New Orleans Pelicans). Same sh-t,” he said about his excitement level for another crack at the Nuggets in the playoffs. “There's no extra preparation for me. We've been preparing all year for whoever we're gonna see in the postseason.

“Obviously, y'all want to make it a Denver – DLo thing. But I'm ready to compete.”

Opponent aside, the Lakers (47-35) are entering the 2024 NBA playoffs as self-confident as they've been since before their last Nuggets series. They've won 12 of their 15 games. They're 22-10 since recommitting to Rui Hachimura in the starting lineup on Feb. 3.

Makes sense, then, to keep the focus on the present opportunity – not their past failures.

“They're a great team,” said LeBron. “We know what they're capable of. The game is not won in the transcripts. The game is won in between the four lines. And that's all that matters.”

Game 1 between the Lakers and Nuggets tips off at 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday from Ball Arena.