We are sensimilla mellow and soft as jello here in Colorado, so I would never suggest the Nuggets begin an NBA playoff game with a hockey fight.
But if Nuggets forward Paul Millsap, whose most notable athletic ability at age 35 is raw man strength, doesn’t knock Lakers star Anthony Davis or L.A. knucklehead Dwight Howard to the floor with a hard foul before halftime of Game 2 in this playoff series, what are the Nuggets paying Millsap $30 million for?
The Lakers regard our cute, little team from the Rocky Mountains as so weak of body and timid of spirit that they can fluster center Nikola Jokic by applying muscle and sweep Denver out of the Western Conference Finals.
“As soon as I step on the floor, I’m going to let (Jokic) know I’m there,” Lakers center Dwight Howard vowed after thoroughly flustering Joker in Game 1, which left Denver begging for mercy from the referees during a 126-114 loss not nearly as close as the score might indicate.
Soft? Yeah, that story’s getting old for those of us in Colorado. But from the cheap seats, you can hear NBA graybeards such as Charles Barkley and Chris Webber chortle that the Nuggets arms aren’t long enough to box with Lakers superstar LeBron James. Know what? Sir Charles just might prove to be correct.
“The first game of a series, you always try to feel out and see what the other team comes with,” Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. said Saturday.
The Lakers swung a hammer. How does Denver respond?
OK, I fully acknowledge this is not your father’s rough-and-tumble NBA. Bill Laimbeer isn’t walking through that door with elbows sharpened to a stiletto point. But there’s nothing subtle about the Lakers’ strategy here. They think it’s possible to bully Jokic and the Nuggets.
And that’s not all.
Howard, whose career has been defined by being a goofball a little thick between the ears, wants to do more than bruise Jokic’s body. Howard wants to mess with Big Honey’s head.
When asked directly about his obvious intent to push around Jokic by Kyle Goon, a fine Lakers reporter working inside the NBA bubble for the same media company that employs me, Howard suggested his idea of fun and games had only just begun.
“Since we’re staying at the same hotel, I might meet (Jokic) right outside his room and let him know: ‘For the rest of the series, I’m going to be right there, locked on you,’” said Howard, who clowned the Nuggets by trying to interrupt a Denver team huddle on the floor during the series opener.
The backup Lakers center also expressed sincere appreciation for Jokic’s skillset, so I’m pretty sure he was joking about that stalking part.
But I’m dead serious about the Nuggets standing up for themselves or packing for home. Millsap’s most meaningful contribution during a postseason in which he’s averaged a meager 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds was when he stood up to Marcus Morris and told the Clippers that Denver was no longer going to take any more guff from them during Round 2 of the playoffs.
I hope Nuggets coach Michael Malone saved a video of Howard’s comments and forwarded it to our buddy Kiki Vandeweghe in the league office. Maybe the smartest way to protest the 37-28 free-throw disparity, built largely in the second quarter of Game 1, would be to point out the Lakers aren’t even trying to hide their intent to knock Joker off his game with physical play.
“We allowed that second quarter free-throw discrepancy to really take root and get us to lose our focus. We can’t let that happen,” Malone said. “We’re going to have enough of a hard time beating the five (L.A.) guys on the floor. We can’t worry about playing five against eight, and the referees are part of it.”
If Millsap can’t throw his weight around, Malone should seriously consider removing the veteran forward from the starting lineup in favor of Torrey Craig, whose length and defensive tenacity at least give Denver somebody on the floor with a chance to slow down a runaway King James during his outta-my-way forays into the lane.
I’m not advocating basketbrawl. But if James gets to lower his shoulder with impunity on drives to the cup, then how can anyone complain if Millsap or Mason Plumlee employ a little rough stuff of their own?
With great optimism and near certainty, I’ll offer a Barkley guar-an-tee the refs give a more favorable whistle to Denver in Game 2. But that being said, the more aggressive team usually makes more trips to the free-throw line.
The Nuggets aren’t soft, but every NBA roster has its flaws. Denver could use a little more meat and mean on its bones. Wouldn’t somebody like tough Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell look good protecting Jokic’s back right about now (or next season, for that matter)?
Rather than beg the refs for respect, how should Nuggets battle back against the Lakers?
One, sharp elbow at the time.
Let’s rock it old school.
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