LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. • Just about everyone had L.A. vs. L.A. written in for the Western Conference finals.
Then along came the resilient Denver Nuggets, who crashed the party.
Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009. They will face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers starting Friday in Game 1.
But this was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against Utah before bouncing back with three-straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the L.A. Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7 again.
They made history, too, becoming the first NBA team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same postseason.
As expected, Denver is an underdog against the Lakers. Murray & Co. are used to it.
“Everybody counts us out. It’s fun to silence everybody,” Murray said. “We love it.”
The last time the Nuggets were in the conference finals they faced the Lakers as well, losing in six games to an L.A. team led by Kobe Bryant.
This Denver squad features a play-making point guard, Murray, and a center who thinks of himself as a point guard in the seven-foot Jokic. Combined, the Nuggets are 6-0 in elimination games this postseason. Pressure doesn’t bother them.
“It’s just fun, the journey,” Jokic said. “This is an interesting team.”
Tuesday, Murray scored 40 points while Jokic finished with 16 points, 13 assists and 22 rebounds.
The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit. They were down by double digits in Games 5, 6 and 7 but came back to win each time.
“We are not accepting that someone is better than us,” said Jokic, whose squad beat San Antonio last season in Game 7 before losing to Portland in seven games. “They really need to beat us and need to play much better than us. ... When we start playing for each other and you see the ball is flowing and the defense and everybody has everyone’s back, it’s really fun.”