The Los Angeles Lakers have an unexpected Western Conference Finals opponent in the Denver Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
The Lakers dominated Game 1 of the series, but the matchup does still present a reunion of sorts for LeBron James and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone.
Malone was an assistant under Mike Brown on the Cleveland Cavaliers staff from 2005 to 2010. Malone had the opportunity to be an influential figure on a young LeBron who had only entered the NBA a couple years prior in 2003.
The two experienced plenty of success as the Cavaliers made the playoffs in each of those five seasons, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2007. A decade later, James maintains a great respect for the Nuggets head coach.
“When you work hard at your craft and you see others working just as hard o their craft, it becomes organic and mutual respect,” James said.
“I know how much Coach Mo put into our schemes, put into our productivity and put into what we needed to go out and win ball games when we were together in Cleveland. The respect level and just seeing how hard he was putting into his craft, it made it easy for me to grow a likeness to him.”
One area where Malone made a huge impact on James was the defensive end of the floor as he was basically the defensive coordinator of sorts for the Cavaliers. But Malone wants no parts of taking credit for his early growth defensively.
“Yeah, well the first thing is, I just want to make sure that we get the narrative straight. I take no credit in LeBron James being the defender that he is,” Malone noted.
“LeBron James deserves the credit. And as I mentioned [Thursday], Mike Brown, the head coach in Cleveland, who I worked with for five years, deserves the lion’s share of the credit because Mike was and still is a defensive-minded coach.”
There is no doubt that Brown has always been about the defensive end of the floor, much like Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. James buying in to Vogel’s defensive philosophy went a long way towards the team’s dominance on that end.
Malone made it very clear that James’ willingness to be coached is what makes him great, and why the two of them had such a great relationship.
“I think the one thing he always respected was I have never tried to be LeBron’s boy,” Malone explained. “I never tried to be his buddy, I wasn’t trying to kiss his ass. I’m a coach’s son. I’m going to coach. If you’re not doing your job, I’m going to tell you just as I would tell anybody else.
“And I think he always respected that deep down inside that I at least had the courage to coach him and not try to not coach him. I think all great players deep down inside want that. They want that accountability, they want that discipline and I think LeBron has always had that.”
LeBron upset over 16 first-place votes for MVP
LeBron had a quiet night by his standards in the Lakers’ dominant Game 1 win over the Nuggets, but he didn’t really need to take over scoring-wise. He finished with just 15 points but added 12 assists as he again controlled the pace of the game without the need for a bunch of points.
It once again showed how important he is to the Lakers which was a major argument many had in his case for regular season MVP.
Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo won the award, as many assumed he would. However, an expected close vote between the two was anything but. James garnered just 16 of the 101 first-place votes, and that didn’t sit well with him at all.
“It pissed me off. That’s my true answer. It pissed me off, because out of 100 votes, I got 16 votes,” he admited. “Not saying the winner wasn’t deserving of the MVP, but that pissed me off.”
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