With all due respect to 22-year-old Jamal Murray – a star that’s been born before our very eyes and who probably isn’t quite yet used to this type of attention – his quotes of late are slightly off.
Murray recently said a few things. Good things. Things you want a superstar to say.
Ahead of his matchup with the Lakers, he “warned” that the Lakers had to “worry” about the Nuggets, too. He’s not wrong. And in reality, he wasn’t trying to provide bulletin board material for LA’s locker room. In essence, after a string of questions that amounted to “How in the world can your team compete with that team?” Murray stood up for his team.
Any competitor can only take so much of that, especially one who just slapped a 40-burger on the Clippers’ grill – in a deciding game seven, no less.
But where Murray was slightly off, or at least a little humble, is that above all things, the Lakers should be worrying about him.
That’s not a knock on Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets “other” superstar – and make no mistake, they’re both superstars. It’s just that in a matchup with the Lakers, Murray figures to be the one who should present LeBron and Co. with the bulk of the problems.
Jokic will be great. Believe that. But the Lakers are constructed, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not, to deal with the Joker. They’ve got three, monster 7-footers to send at Jokic all series long. They’ve got size and fouls, and more size and more fouls, just waiting for the superb Serb.
There may not be one good option for dealing with him. There are certainly not three.
The Lakers are big – really big – but that doesn’t help much when it comes to Murray, who has developed Steph Curry range and the ability to dictate how, when and where he shoots. Perhaps the Lakers will employ veteran Rajon Rondo, who has made a career of being an excellent defender. That career, however, spans 14 seasons. There’s no way the 34-year-old Rondo can provide the only answer for Murray. His 26 minutes per game won’t be enough against the young legs of Murray, especially if he’s not healthy; in fact, Rondo is already listed as questionable for Game 1.
Besides, it would appear that no matchup bothers Murray all that much. The Clippers threw everything in the kitchen sink at Murray, including some of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and it wasn’t enough.
Make no mistake, Murray is the matchup that keeps the Lakers up at night.
That doesn’t mean LeBron James, still the best player on earth, doesn’t have Michael Malone fidgeting at all. He surely and understandably does. The point is, though, both teams have powerful pawns in what should be one helluva game of chess.
And if Murray can somehow become the man who lifts the Nuggets over the mighty Lakers, he’ll become the first to ever do so in Denver.
Murray is already flying in rate air. The Nuggets were the first in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same postseason; they couldn’t have done without Murray, who contributed four 40-plus-point games. Murray has averaged 32.7 points in games where the Nuggets face elimination this postseason.
For the sake of comparison, Alex English posted four 40-plus point performances in his 68 playoff games with the Nuggets. Carmelo Anthony, who played in 45 playoff games in Denver, can boast just two. Jokic, a statistical anomaly who doesn’t necessarily have to score big to play big, has one 42-point playoff game. Neither English nor Anthony ever scored 50 points in the playoffs – Murray already has two such games.
But beating the Lakers in the playoffs, something no Nugget has ever done, is bigger than any stat ever could be.
Murray, who’s grown up in the blink of an eye, can lead the Nuggets to do just that. It’s his time.