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Denver Nuggets sweep LA Lakers to head to first NBA Finals

He had 40 points on Monday, though, but there were worrying news when ESPN reported he could be considering retirement after the defeat brought the curtain down on his 20th season.

James also fuelled speculation about his future, saying he planned to take time to reflect on the next stage of his career.

“I don’t play for anything besides winning championships,” said the forward.

“I don’t get a kick out of making a conference (Finals) appearance... We’ll see what happens going forward. I’ve got a lot to think about to be honest.” NYTIMES, AFP

LOS ANGELES – As the Denver Nuggets’ historic celebrations began, LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers’ star forward, walked off his home court, his face expressionless.

Even after the final buzzer on Monday night, some of Denver’s players could not believe they are going to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals for the first time in franchise history, after completing a four-game sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals with a 113-111 win.

Now, they await the winners of the East Finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics.

Denver star centre Nikola Jokic was named the MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the West Finals following his 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists on Monday, and received only praise from James.

“Even when you guard him, he puts the ball behind his head Larry Bird style and shoots it 50 feet in the air and it goes in,” he said. “Like he did four or five times this series.”

Denver had not been to the NBA Finals in their 47 seasons, and Jokic thanked the entire franchise for a team effort.

“I’m really happy for the guys and for the organisation and just how we fight through,” he said. “I remember the days when nobody was in our (court) – you could hear the ball bounce on the floor and there was no fans.”

For the Nuggets, the win on Monday culminated a years-long process in which their core players grew together, weathered challenging injuries and faced questions about their ability to even compete in the West.

Denver lost star guard Jamal Murray in April 2021, when he tore the ACL in his left knee. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the day after the injury he tearfully asked if the Nuggets would trade him.

“I said: ‘Hell no, you’re ours. We’re going to help you get back, and you’re going to be a better player for it’,” he said.

Murray missed the rest of that season and all of 2021-22. In this season’s play-offs, Denver’s patience paid off.

He began looking like the player he was before the injury and Jokic continued playing at an elite level, complemented by Denver’s cast of talented role players.

The Nuggets rose to first in the West in December and never fell out of the top spot. In the play-offs, they beat the Timberwolves 4-1 in the first round and the Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the second. But few favoured them to win the championship. The Nuggets embraced that.

“We’re the underdogs,” guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We don’t get enough credit for what we do... we take that personal. We just use that energy, continue to prove everybody wrong.”

Some thought the Lakers were dangerous enough to be the team that finally upended the Nuggets.

For a while, Los Angeles seemed doomed because of roster issues and injuries to their stars, James and Anthony Davis.

They began the season with a 2-10 record. In December, the Lakers were in 13th.

But changes at the trading deadline in February helped. They rose to seventh in the West by the end of the regular season, and beat Minnesota in the play-in tournament to secure the seventh seed for the play-offs.

In the first round, they defeated Memphis 4-2. Then they upset champions Golden State Warriors by the same scoreline.

But James had looked more fallible in this series than he had in the past. He went 0 for 10 from three-point range in the first two games, made costly mistakes late in Game 1 and drew ridicule for missing a dunk in Game 2.