Kiszla: Crazy talk? Nuggets itching for fight with LeBron, Kawhi or the Beard in NBA playoffs

Is Jamal Murray nuts?

The Nuggets, he wants everybody in the NBA to know, are itching for a fight with LeBron James. This young Denver team, with precisely one playoff series victory on its resume, wants a piece of proven champ Kawhi Leonard, and isn’t afraid to start an argument with James Harden.

“We don’t think there’s a team that can beat us in a seven-game series when we’re playing at our best,” Murray declared.

He dreams big. I like the swagger Murray brings to a franchise long told that winning a championship can’t happen in Denver.

“Why not? Why not? Why not?” he said.

Alongside center Nikola Jokic, the young point guard is ready to take on anybody.

“When me and Joker are on, I don’t think there’s anybody who can stop us,” Murray said during a recent Zoom call with local media.

But shooting from the lip is easy. Gunning down the Lakers, Clippers or Rockets in the wild, wild Western Conference when the NBA resumes play in Florida? That will be hard. Harder than anything Jokic and Murray have ever achieved on the basketball court.

“We know we can go win the title,” said Murray, emboldened by the team’s 43-22 record when the coronavirus interrupted the regular season in March.

Are the Nuggets ready to walk the brash talk? At relatively tender ages, have Jokic, 25, and Murray, 23, grown up enough to run with the big dogs in the NBA playoffs?

We shall see. But I think not.

In a league that celebrates individual greatness like no other team sport in the USA, the playoffs are when NBA stars shine brightest.

Jokic and Murray are young and capable of being freaky good together. But while Jokic is a bona fide star, Murray has yet to prove he’s a top-tier guard on anywhere near a consistent basis.

Yes, it takes more than two to win a playoff series. But at crunch time – or winning time, as Magic Johnson liked to call it – every NBA team looks to its stars to take over.

And the Western Conference is packed with dynamic duos. How do you think Jokic and Murray stack up against Leonard and Paul George of the Clippers, who might not even be the best one-two punch in the city they share with James and Anthony Davis of the Lakers.

The last team Denver wants to see in the opening round of the playoffs is Houston, with Harden and Russell Westbrook. While the Nuggets shout they’ve got next, could it be the most dangerous young guns in the West are Mavericks Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis?

All the cool kids in the NBA lunchroom salivate over advanced metrics, and consider any opinion not grounded in stats as pure baloney. So I will play that game, and for the purpose of getting this argument started, rank the Western stars by Real Plus-Minus.

Lakers: 9.92 (James 6.86; Davis 3.06)

Rockets: 9.08 (Harden 5.71; Westbrook 3.37)

Mavericks: 6.40 (Doncic 3.80; Porzingis 2.60)

Clippers: 6.02 (Leonard 4.08; George 1.94)

Nuggets: 3.80 (Jokic 3.44; Murray 0.36)

Lacking a true No. 2 to make a dynamic duo, coach Michael Malone was forced to lean on Jokic to the point of exhaustion a year ago. While Murray is fearless, has his game grown enough for Denver to be anything more than a long shot to win the championship?

While the Nuggets embrace the convenient excuse that youth and inexperience caused them to be bounced from the playoffs on their home floor in 2019, would it be outrageous to suggest the bigger reason Denver lost to Portland is because Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum slightly out-played Jokic and Murray over the course of seven games?

“We shouldn’t have lost to Portland,” Murray said.

I am tempted to knock over this pot I’m stirring with the suggestion Denver won’t be a true championship contender until the Nuggets trust the skills and health of Michael Porter Jr. enough to anoint him as the Jokic’s wingman. But let’s put that argument on hold, leaving a lively debate about MPJ’s role to bounce off the walls of the NBA bubble in Orlando.

For now, riddle me this: Can Joker and Jamal take out Bron and the Brow in the NBA playoffs, or even survive a matchup against the Beard and Russ?

Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to find out. The sweet anticipation is precisely why we’ve missed sports so much.

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