Of all the hot takes Skip Bayless has fired off in his life, the ones offered in the last few days had to be the toughest for him to swallow. For months, Bayless had been backing the Los Angeles Clippers as the top team in the NBA, as the team that would take down the Lakers and star player LeBron James, the guy Bayless has been tearing down on television for years now. Well, Bayless’s Clippers lost in devastating fashion to the Nuggets in the conference semifinals, coughing up a 3-1 series lead, which led Bayless to do something almost unthinkable.
He congratulated James. He handed him this year’s NBA trophy despite the need for the Lakers to pull off eight more wins down in the league’s central Florida bubble environment before they are NBA champs. He ate crow.
“Congrats, LeBron, you just avoided the only team that could’ve beaten you,” Bayless wrote. “YOU JUST WON YOUR 4TH CHAMPIONSHIP, MY MAN.”
Nuggets Will Have a Say in Lakers’ Championship Chase
Of course, the Nuggets will have something to say about that. Denver has been the most remarkable team in the postseason this year, now twice falling behind in their series, 3-1, and coming back to win both times, something that has not happened in NBA history. They withstood a scoring onslaught from Utah’s Donovan Mitchell in the first round and needed two major second-half comebacks to win Games 5 and 6 against the loaded Clippers, who entered the playoffs as the favorite to win the championship.
It is only the second time in franchise history the Nuggets have reached the conference finals. By way of comparison, James now has reached the conference finals 11 times. But the Nuggets are taking all of that in stride, even as they face the top-seeded Lakers, a team that beat them in all three games they played with James healthy this season (the Nuggets won one with James injured).
“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said on Tuesday night after Game 7. “And I think we’ve proven that time and time again.”
Malone did note just how few people gave them a chance to get past the Clippers, how predestined it seemed to have the Lakers and Clippers featured in an all-L.A. Western Conference showdown.
“So proud. All the guys, never got down, believed in each other. Believed in themselves,” Malone said, according to ESPN. “In light of all the noise outside this series that we had no chance. We have people guaranteeing it. We found a way to beat a really good team three times. I’ve run out of things to say.”
Is Bayless Setting up LeBron James?
And perhaps of all this is just a portion of a diabolical plot on Bayless’ part. Because the Nuggets are not seen as quite the threat to the Lakers that the Clippers would have been, and because the Top 2 seeds in the East—the Bucks and Raptors—have also been eliminated, Bayless has portrayed the Lakers’ path from here as a rolled-out red carpet.
He did that even before the Clippers were finished off. On Monday, before the Clippers-Nuggets Game 7, Bayless also tweeted that James had an easy path to a title, declaring it a “cakewalk” because the Clippers were not playing well.
That denigrates anything the Lakers do from here, setting up future wins as just a confirmation of what they should have done all along. By Bayless’s logic, they are not going to win, necessarily, because they are a great team or James is a great player—they’re going to win because every other good team lost.
The Lakers already have been handed the trophy, so there is nowhere to go but down. If the Lakers should stumble, be sure to make note how quickly Bayless and others pounce on them.