Darvin Ham, Michael Malone Trade Verbal Jabs Ahead of Lakers-Nuggets Playoff Rematch

Lakers coach Darvin Ham

Getty Head coach Darvin Ham of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the second half against Denver Nuggets.

The Denver Nuggets have the Los Angeles Lakers‘ number. But Lakers coach Darvin Ham refused to back down, setting the tone for an emotionally charged rematch with his battle cry.

“We want all the smoke and we ain’t ducking no fades,” Ham told his players inside the Lakers locker room after they rallied to beat the New Orleans Pelicans on April 16 and arranged a first-round matchup against the Nuggets.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone responded a day after with a jab.

“We swept them last year. We swept them this year,” Malone told reporters after the Nuggets practice on April 17. “They come in playing really well and hungry. They want to flip that script. Our players understand that.”

Drilling that in his players’ heads has become the theme of the Nuggets practice ahead of the playoffs which tips off on Saturday, April 20.

“You win a championship and now and here come a very hungry Lakers team who’s pissed off that we’ve beaten them eight straight times,” Malone again told reporters after the team practice on April 18. “We want to go up to a great start and send a message.”

LeBron James, Michael Malone Tired of ‘Rematch’ Angle

While the rematch and revenge angle provide a dramatic storyline in the Lakers-Nuggets playoff matchup, two of the main characters — LeBron James and Malone — are not a fan of it.

“I think you’re putting a little bit too much emphasis on it,” James told reporters after the Lakers practice on April 18 when asked about the rematch. “This is our first-round matchup. I mean, we’re looking forward to the postseason. But I haven’t been, like, looking forward to the rematch. The game is played how it’s being played, and this is the matchup. So we’re looking forward to that challenge.”

Malone was also having none of it even though he keeps on reminding his players that the Lakers are seeking revenge.

“The biggest challenge is everyone keeps talking about how we’ve beaten them eight games in a row and as I told our players that doesn’t mean anything,” Malone told reporters on April 17. “I mean this is a different team, a different series and we know what we have in front of us. It’s going to be a hell of a challenge to beat the Lakers again in the playoffs.”

Nothing Personal

James does not want last year’s Western Conference Finals sweep to be their motivation to beat the Nuggets, imploring the Lakers to focus on their game plan and detach from the emotional burden of their 0-8 record against the Nuggets.

“It shouldn’t be personal at all,” James said. “I think you allow yourself to get away from the game plan when you make it too personal. We have a game plan. You go out there and execute it and you live with the results. I’m kind of the last person you should [ask that] — I just stay even-keeled. I’ve been in the postseason way too long in my career to know that you don’t get too high off of Game 1 or get too high over whoever the matchup is. You got to just stay even-keeled.”

Game 1 couldn’t come soon enough.