LeBron James: 'Too much emphasis' on Lakers-Nuggets as rematch

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- While history shows that the Denver Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals en route to the championship in 2023 and the Lakers beat the Nuggets in the conference finals on their way to the title in 2020, LeBron James says whatever happened in the past has no bearing on the present playoff series about to begin.

"I think you're putting a little bit too much emphasis on it," James said after practice Thursday when asked about the rematch factor for the two teams. "This is our first-round matchup. I mean, we're looking forward to the postseason. But I haven't been, like, looking forward to the rematch. The game is played how it's being played, and this is the matchup. So we're looking forward to that challenge."

It doesn't serve the Lakers any good to reflect on how their recent performances have gone against Denver. The Nuggets have won the past eight straight, including last year's playoffs.

"It shouldn't be personal at all," James said when asked about the motivation for payback. "I think you allow yourself to get away from the game plan when you make it too personal. We have a game plan. You go out there and execute it and you live with the results. I'm kind of the last person you should [ask that] -- I just stay even-keeled. I've been in the postseason way too long in my career to know that you don't get too high off of Game 1 or get too high over whoever the matchup is. You got to just stay even-keeled."

If there was a player on the Lakers' roster looking for personal redemption after last spring's sweep, it would be D'Angelo Russell.

Russell averaged 6.3 points on 32% shooting (13% from 3) and 3.5 assists in the series and lost his starting role in Game 4.

He returned to the Lakers on a two-year, $37 million deal in the offseason after the playoff disappointment and responded with a strong season -- averaging 18 points on 45.6% (41.5% from 3), 6.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Russell presented a similar mindset as James when asked about the series, saying he is looking at the defending champs no different than L.A.'s challenge in the play-in round against the New Orleans Pelicans.

"The same as it was against New Orleans," Russell said. "Same s---. There's no extra preparation for me. Been preparing all year for whoever we would see in the postseason. Obviously, y'all make it a Denver-D-Lo thing, but I'm ready to compete."

Lakers coach Darvin Ham endorsed Russell, expressing confidence in his point guard who scored 19 points and hit five 3-pointers -- including one that sealed the win in the final minute -- to secure the No. 7 seed.

"D-Lo is in an incredible space," Ham said. "He's kicking ass for us and we expect him to do the same [against Denver]."

Ham also spoke about the need for the Lakers to cut down on their mistakes, knowing that last year's four conference finals losses were by a grand total of 24 points. A couple possessions a game could swing the outcome of the first-round series, and the last thing the Lakers want is the difference to be from self-inflicted errors.

"We just got to be better all around," James said, echoing his coach. "Obviously, it's a great team that we're playing against. A team that won the championship, so they've been in a lot of big games and know what they want to get to late in games. So we just have to be very disciplined and have our mind into throughout the course of 48 minutes or however long it takes.

"It's going to be challenging but that's what the postseason is all about. It should be."