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"We know they're going to be aggressive, especially with me": Jamal Murray talks matchup vs. Lakers, why he loves playing against LeBron

Harrison Wind Avatar
October 25, 2018

LOS ANGELES — Jamal Murray doesn’t care who the opponent is. Despite the fact that Thursday’s nationally televised matchup against LeBron James and the Lakers will draw a few sets of eyeballs for more reasons than one, the 21-year-old is looking at it as just another game.

“A game’s a game,” Murray said. “Whoever we’re facing, whether its Sacramento, L.A. or Phoenix, we don’t care.”

The Lakers are the talk of the league after signing LeBron James this summer but also because of their slow start to the year. There’s history between the Nuggets and Lakers dating back to last season too.

In an early-December matchup, Murray dribbled around Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball in the final seconds of Denver’s 115-110 win. Ball and Lakers coach Luke Walton didn’t take kindly to Murray’s late-game showboat. Following the two team’s next meeting in March, a 125-116 Nuggets’ win, Walton said Murray acted “disrespectful” towards the Lakers for the second time in as many matchups. When asked to elaborate, Walton said, ” just some trash-talking toward our guys.”

“We remembered it,” said Ball, of Murray’s dribble move from December’s matchup. “It’s a punk move. But like I said, we’re not going to get into it. [Murray will] do whatever he’s going to do.”

The Nuggets and Lakers faced off twice this preseason, with Murray only appearing in the two team’s preseason opener in San Diego. Murray was booed by the Laker-leaning crowd during pregame introductions and throughout the night.

“There’s familiarity,” said Murray.

Last season’s “suburban beef,” as Will Barton called it, is a distant memory. The Nuggets are 4-0 with one of the league’s top defenses and are one of just three remaining undefeated teams (Raptors, Pelicans.) Most of the Lakers’ young core from last year remains, but Los Angeles added Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee to its rotation this summer. Los Angeles is still trying to find its rhythm this season with James and its new cast of characters.

“I love going up against LeBron. I wish I could go against him more often,” Murray said. “He’s just smart, and he’s a team player.”

Denver put some of last season’s nightmares to rest Tuesday when the Nuggets rolled past the Kings 126-112. A year ago, a potential trap game against Sacramento on the heels of an emotional win versus Golden State with a game against the Lakers on the horizon could have spelled trouble for Denver. Not this time.

After opening the season in a 12-39 shooting slump, Murray broke out in the third quarter of Tuesday’s win, scoring 14 of his 19 points in a nine-minute span.

“To go into the game and get into a rhythm and want the ball every time down the court, it’s a good feeling,” Murray said.

Denver went 2-2 in four matchups against Los Angeles last season, and Murray showed out when the two teams faced each other, averaging 19.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists across four games. If Murray has a similar showing Thursday, the Nuggets will be in a good position to extend their winning streak, move to 5-0 on the year and match their best start since the 2009-10 season.

“We always like to go out there and make a statement, and we don’t want to lose our first game. We don’t want to lose basically,” Murray said. “We’re undefeated right now, which is a good feeling. We know they’re going to be aggressive, especially with me. We’re all ready for that.”

G.O.A.T. Talk

Murray grew up in Kitchener, Ontario. His childhood hero? Vince Carter, who played for the Toronto Raptors from 1998-2004. Murray used to mimic Carter’s dunks in his bedroom while watching Raptor games on VCR (he didn’t have cable growing up.)

“He’s the guy that when you step on the court, you go ‘That’s Vince!’ I say that every time,” Murray said. “‘He’s coming! He’s checking in! He’s on the bench! He’s warming up!’ I get more star-struck seeing him than I do seeing Kobe or LeBron still. He’s just a different story.”

Murray idolizes Carter but considers Michael Jordan the greatest player of all-time. As far as the league’s present-day GOAT, who he’ll face Thursday, Murray ranks James third behind Jordan and Kobe Bryant on his personal basketball pantheon.

“MJ’s my pick for greatest ever. He’s a superhero,” Murray said. “LeBron’s close. It depends on who you like, him or Kobe.

“For me, it goes MJ, Kobe, LeBron. Kobe’s basically Mike, you know? He’s the same kind of thing, same kind of mentality. LeBron’s separate, he’s his own player in terms of his physique, his uniqueness and what he brings to the table.”

Nuggets Projected Starters

Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic

Inactives: Will Barton (core and hip), Isaiah Thomas (right hip), Michael Porter Jr. (lower back), Jarred Vanderbilt (right foot)

Lakers Probable Starters

Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, JaVale McGee

Inactives: Rajon Rondo (suspension), Brandon Ingram (suspension)

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