Nuggets’ jabs have Reaves, Lakers eyeing opener

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Lakers‘ regular-season opener against the Denver Nuggets might still be three weeks away, but after hearing the defending champions talk all summer, L.A. already sounds ready for it.

After the Nuggets swept the Lakers in the Western Conference finals and went on to defeat the Miami Heat for the title, Denver coach Michael Malone was introduced as “the Lakers’ daddy” during the team’s parade celebration. Malone also mocked LeBron James‘ comments following the loss to Denver when he told ESPN he would contemplate retirement during the offseason.

“Speaking of the Lakers, I just want you guys to know — this is breaking news — I’m thinking about retiring so don’t tell anybody,” Malone said as a guest on “The Pat McAfee Show.”

Anthony Davis, speaking to Spectrum SportsNet during media day Monday called all the trash talk “motivational.” He added, “There was just so much of that going on it was like, ‘All right, we get it, y’all won.’ But me and Bron had some conversations like, ‘We can’t wait (to play them again.)'”

Lakers guard Austin Reaves also took umbrage with the Denver discourse.

“I think everybody knows it was pointed at us,” Reaves said after the first practice of training camp Tuesday. “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 seemingly addressed Malone on his Instagram in June, without acknowledging 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.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham joined the “This League Uncut” podcast the following month and vowed, “This s— ain’t over.”

Reaves says the back-and-forth will only add to his team’s anticipation for the Oct. 24 opener at Ball Arena.

“You see stuff,” Reaves said. “Me, personally, I try my best to stay off of social media and not look at all that stuff. To me, I go play every game the way I’m going to go play the first game against them. But I think it adds a little bit of motivation to go play really well. That’s really it.”

Reaves, who was a limited participant in practice as the team plans to ease him into camp after his played for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup over the summer, hopes the Lakers can play the role of spoilers when the Nuggets raise their championship banner to the rafters.

“I was happy to see Denver as the first game,” Reaves said. “It’s a big night for them, as it should be. You tip your hat to them. They played a hell of a series against us and then went and won it in the Finals against Miami, so you tip your hat. But at the end of the day, we can go get a win that first game on their ring night. Obviously not spoil their day [completely], but start off our season in a good way.”

L.A. was one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the conference finals against Denver, going 18-6 from the end of the regular season through their play-in tournament win over Minnesota and their victories over Memphis and Golden State in the first two rounds, before it all came to a halt against the Nuggets.

Denver won the four games by a combined 24 points, with L.A. failing to protect several second-half leads.

“I’ve actually thought about [the series] quite a bit because everyone you talk to brings it up,” Reaves said. “‘What could y’all have done to at least win a game?’ Everybody wasn’t happy we got swept. Obviously, we weren’t happy. I’ve thought about it a lot.

“I just think that with the way that they were together for a full year, it really showed down the stretch against us — fourth quarters especially.”

The Lakers organization responded to the loss by giving their group a chance to build continuity like the Nuggets have had, re-signing Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell in free agency; extending Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt; and returning seven players in all from last year’s team.

“Having those returning players helps us,” Ham said after the first day of camp. “[They] collaborate with us to communicate what we’re trying to do on both sides of the ball; it just speeds up the process.”

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