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Worn by the tandem Nikola Jokic-Jamal Murray, the Nuggets once again surprised the Clippers in Game 7 of their series (104-89), thus rallying the Finals of the Western Conference after having been led 3-1.

The Lakers, their next opponents in the conference final, are warned: the Nuggets have resources.

As against Utah in the previous round, Denver indeed came back from a deficit of two wins to finally dominate the Clippers and clinch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals. Led 3-1 by the Californians, the Colorado franchise has again chained three straight wins to win in the match and 7 and thus win the series 4 wins to 3, becoming the first team in the history of the League to win two series in the playoffs after being two games behind.

Somebody had to be the first to do it, why not us? #MileHighBasketball

– Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 16, 2020

But if their victory against the Jazz in the seventh game had been long to emerge, the men of Michael Malone having to wait until the last seconds to win 80-78, this new success against the Clippers will have been much easier to obtain. After two balanced first quarters, the Angelinos even turning in the lead at the break (56-54), the Nuggets made the hole in the third quarter (28-18) before driving the nail into the home stretch. And once again, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were the two great architects of this victory, the first by compiling a triple-double with 16 points at 5 of 13 on shots, 22 rebounds and 13 assists and the second by finishing top scorer of the game thanks to 40 points to 15 of 26 on shots.

For the Clippers, the curse continues. The other Los Angeles franchise still has no Conference Finals appearances. However, the opportunities were not lacking: eight times the Californians have indeed been in a position to win their holy grail, eight times they have lost. Proof of the curse, even Kawhi Leonard completely got through on Tuesday. The former Raptor had to settle for 14 points to 6 of 22 on shots, 6 assists and 6 rebounds while Paul George was even worse with 10 points to 4 of 16. Montrezl Harrell came off the bench to register 20 points , but it would have taken more to make up for the bankruptcy of the two leaders of the Clippers.

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Whicker: Lakers, unlike the Clippers, dont ask you to wait until next year

Five days later, his parting words still scrape on the eardrum.

Did Paul George really say that the Clippers’ 2019-20 season wasn’t a matter of “championship or bust?”

Technically, he is correct. There is no record of either George or Kawhi Leonard promising that the Clippers would be this year’s champions.

Practically, it is one of the all-time cop-outs, since it came a few minutes after Leonard and George combined to miss 28 of 38 shots at the end of the Clippers’ listless Game 7 farewell.

The events of last summer certainly weren’t billed as the beginning of a two-year plan. The other Clippers did not spend nearly every day of that summer scrimmaging among themselves because they were shooting for 2022.

Indeed, the Clippers admitted they were liquidating their long (cq) future when they got Lennie (cq) and George, but you know what they say about mice, men and best-laid plans.

Their season of promise was just that, a constant plea for patience that finally cratered in Games 5-6-7, when they were immobilized by Denver’s refusal to surrender.

Contrast them with the Lakers in Game 1 Friday night. Granted, the Lakers are better built to handle the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, but they made sure they saddled him with fouls, and as the game progressed they contested not just shots but passes and dribbles. They made every possession a problem until the Nuggets cracked.

That doesn’t guarantee anything for the rest of the series, but it was the first time in a week and a half that Denver was made to feel uncomfortable.

The coldest and best epitaph for the Clippers was pronounced by ESPN’s Mark Jackson in Tuesday’s superfluous fourth quarter: “They say pressure produces diamonds and busts pipes. I see the Clippers and I see a lot of busted pipes.”

And so here come the rumors. The same Internet that tells you COVID-19 is a hoax also tells you the Clippers are considering trading George to Miami for Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Andre Iguodala, Kendrick Nunn and two first-round picks. Or that Gordon Hayward and three first-rounders are shipping in from Boston in exchange for PG-13.

Since the Clippers’ Official Reason for the loss is they haven’t spent enough time together, this is all garbage until proven otherwise.

Meanwhile, the Lakers plead guilty to a sense of urgency, and why not? You can’t replace seasons. Ask the Dodgers if there is any real space between championship and bust. Ask the Seattle Mariners, who went through Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. and, after all of them had gone, won 116 regular-season games in 2001. They still haven’t made a World Series.

The Lakers envision only one true outcome. That’s why they got Anthony Davis with no guarantees past this year, and it’s why they reeled back the years and picked up the forgotten Rajon Rondo and the damaged Dwight Howard.

They did not see Rondo as a ball-usurping threat to LeBron James but as a championship playmaker whenever James had to sit. Once they explained their terms to Howard, they saw him as a luxurious big man on a team that already had two, and thus were equipped to punish a league that thought the future lay in transistorized lineups.

The Lakers are 5-1 once Rondo got healthy in Orlando. Howard, a former MVP, was terrific in the parts of Game 1 that mattered. So was Markieff Morris, who arrived at the trade deadline.

The Lakers were supposed to be hurting without Avery Bradley’s out-front defense, but coach Frank Vogel’s teams have generally demonstrated that defense is a mentality, not an innate gift. They held Jamal Murray to 21 points, permitted him only 12 shots and hassled him into three turnovers.

Afterward, James was asked whether he agreed with the MVP voters who anointed Giannis Antetokounmpo for the second consecutive year. James made it clear he did not, especially when only 16 of the 101 voters favored him. Related Articles

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This was reminiscent of Wayne Gretzky becoming gloriously offended when Toronto journalists said he had a “piano on his back” in the 1993 conference finals, or Jack Nicklaus clipping an Atlanta writer’s dismissal of his chances to win the 1986 Masters and putting it on his refrigerator. Michael Jordan made a career of lining up real and imagined straw men and sweeping them into the dustbin.

The great ones think every season is a championship season and love to bust the critics. The Clippers may yet borrow that mindset, but it seems odd that they weren’t as driven to reach their first conference final as the Lakers are to win their 17th NBA championship.

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