LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers were there waiting. Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers were right on the doorstep.
One more win would have set up a Western Conference finals showdown between the Los Angeles teams, the top two seeds who share residence at Staples Center. It would have been the most eagerly awaited series at Disney World, turning Lake Buena Vista into LA-ke Buena Vista.
The Denver Nuggets ruined those plans with a rout in Game 7 that may have taken the air out of the bubble for some, but the Lakers say meant nothing to them.
“We knew it was going to be a good game, but our focus isn’t on the Clippers or the battle of LA, but more so what can we do to finish our season strong,” Davis said.
They can do it by beating the Nuggets to get to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Lakers won their last championship a decade ago.
The series starts Friday, with the Lakers coming off another long rest and the Nuggets facing another quick turnaround after making NBA history by erasing a 3-1 deficit for the second time in this postseason.
“Obviously, I think the Lakers are probably the most-rested team in the bubble,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They’re taking care of business, so give them credit in that regard, but our guys seem to be pretty locked in to our next challenge coming up.”
The Nuggets also went seven games against Utah in the first round. Malone said the biggest question in this series was whether his team was satisfied with making the conference finals for only the second time in franchise history, or was still driven to go further.
There’s no such question with the Lakers, built to win now with All-NBA first-team selections James and Davis. Both averaged better than 25 points and 10 rebounds against Houston in the second round.
The Lakers dropped Game 1 against both Portland and the Rockets, then followed with four straight victories. They seem to get better as the series go on, which could be trouble for a Nuggets team that has been taking five games to play their best basketball.
“We still have a ceiling that we feel like we can get better and it’s our job to not put a cap on where we can go,” James said. “So we know as the series goes on we start to get more and more comfortable with our opponent, with our schemes, with our system of what we want to do, and we hope to continue that in this series.”
The Nuggets don’t present the same story lines as the Clippers, but they certainly have the stars. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have been two of the best players in the bubble, so the Lakers aren’t going to overlook the No. 3 seeds.
“We kind of surprised the Clippers and probably they don’t want to make that happen to them, so I think they’re going to be really focused and really locked in,” Jokic said.
Kings name GM
The Kings hired former Rockets executive Monte McNair as their new general manager. The team announced the move to replace Vlade Divac on Thursday, making McNair the team’s top basketball executive reporting to owner Vivek Ranadivé. “Monte is one of the NBA’s top basketball minds who has played an instrumental role in building several winning teams in Houston,” Ranadivé said. “I am excited to bring his extensive experience and vision onboard to lead our basketball operations department, and it is my pleasure to welcome Monte and his family to Sacramento.” McNair has a tough task ahead with the Kings having missed the playoffs for 14 straight seasons. That’s the longest active drought and one shy of the NBA record. The Kings went 31-41 this season in the first year under coach Luke Walton … Raptors president Masai Ujiri says re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet is a “big-time priority.” VanVleet, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, averaged 18 points and seven assists this season for the defending NBA champions.