Lakers Coach Darvin Ham Sends Strong Message to ‘Avoid Nuggets’ Proponents

Lakers coach Darvin Ham

Getty Head coach Darvin Ham of the Los Angeles Lakers calls out a play during the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham dismissed those who suggested they should have tanked against the New Orleans Pelicans to avoid the defending champion Denver Nuggets in the first round.

“[They’re] just someone that just got out of the insane asylum,” Ham told reporters after the Lakers went all out to beat the Pelicans anew 110-106 on Tuesday, April 16, and forged a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals.

ESPN’s Mike Greenberg was one of the big voices of the “Avoid the Nuggets” chatter.

On Monday, April 15, Greenberg strongly suggested in his morning show “GetUp” that the Lakers should have rested Lebron James and Anthony Davis and prepared for a play-in game at home against the Sacramento Kings, who eliminated the Golden State Warriors.

“You want to be the eighth [seed],” Greenberg said of the Lakers. “I’m taking my chances in a one-and-done at home against Sacramento and go in against the very young OKC Thunder in round one instead of going into the buzzsaw that is Denver. I think it is worth the risk.”

Greenberg’s well-meaning suggestion was because the Nuggets have dominated the Lakers since the last playoffs. The Lakers have lost their last eight meetings.

But Ham and the Lakers are not afraid of the defending champions. They want all the smoke.

“It’s an opportunity and like I say, man, it’s back to zero,” Ham told reporters. “Obviously they’ve had a ton of success against our ball club but there’s always a new day and my staff and I have already been putting the groundwork together for that game plan.”

Magic Johnson Slams ‘Avoid Nuggets’ Chatter

Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson also dismissed the idea of avoiding the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s ridiculous that I’ve been hearing people think they should intentionally lose to face [the Kings] and eventually, the Thunder. As a true competitor, you should always want to win. To be the best, you have to beat the best,” Johnson posted on X, formerly Twitter, before the Lakers went on to beat the Pelicans.

Johnson, a five-time champion, led the Lakers to nine NBA Finals appearances during his storied 13-year career. He and his Lakers teams never ducked anyone, including his formidable rival Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.

Darvin Ham Likes Lakers’ Chances Against Nuggets

The Lakers will begin to prepare against the Nuggets on Thursday, April 18, after Ham opted to rest his players on Wednesday.

But he revealed he and his coaching staff will not have a day off.

“We’ll start the work the process of building out the game plan and go up there and give it our best shot,” Ham told reporters. “That’s all we can do. We feel comfortable though. We like where we are, where the spirit of our group is.

“Everybody’s chipping in, pitching in. We’re all excited about this challenge and this opportunity. In respect to them, there’s a reason why they’re defending champs but we like our chances.”

The Lakers are peaking at the right time. They have won 13 of their last 16 games, including the play-in match against the Pelicans, to advance to the playoffs.

Ham liked what he saw during this stretch.

“[We’re] just playing basketball the right way,” Ham said. “These guys are really having a lot of fun. There had been some challenging moments no doubt but you can see the genuineness of the group and the joy that they get from playing with one another. And the way we’ve been playing collectively is at a higher level. So again we’re in a great space right now at the perfect time.”

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