Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could only laugh when he was asked about having won an NBA championship as a starting guard with the Lakers in 2020. Now as a starting guard with the Denver Nuggets both teams are in the other’s way of trying to reach the NBA Finals.
“That’s crazy, right?” he said after practice Monday on the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Nuggets at Ball Arena. “We just talked about it yesterday and had a laugh about it. The crazy thing about it is that the same four teams that were in the bubble in the conference finals are back in the conference finals again. We had a good laugh about it.”
He was referring to how the Lakers and Nuggets met in the Western Conference finals in 2020 on the Walt Disney World campus near Orlando, Fla., and are facing off again while the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat met in the Eastern Conference finals in 2020 and are going at it again in 2023.
Before Caldwell-Pope could finish his thoughts, Denver reserve center DeAndre Jordan interrupted the conversation, joking that the reporter from Los Angeles wanted extra information.
“You know you won a championship with the Lakers. How does it feel?” said Jordan, who played for the Lakers and Clippers. “So, give me some details on the Nuggets.”
Caldwell-Pope shook his head and laughed.
Yes, the Nuggets have the home-court advantage, but he’s expecting it to be a tough best-of-seven series.
“This series is going to be fun,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We have to go through them guys to get to the championship.”
Caldwell-Pope played his role to the fullest for the Lakers — defending, knocking down open shots and being a good teammate.
He earned a ring because of that.
“After winning the championship, we had a chance to spend time with the family, with all the players and stuff just to celebrate our championship,,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But it was still during COVID so there was a lot of stuff we still couldn’t do. But we still made the best of it and enjoyed it.”
Caldwell-Pope spent four seasons with the Lakers, but he was part of the trade package the Lakers sent to the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook following the 2020-21 season.
Caldwell-Pope was acquired by the Nuggets from the Wizards last July and has flourished.
He’s averaging 10.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 47.7% from the field, 39.1% from three-point range and 88.9% from the free-throw line in the playoffs.
“His energy. His energy is second to none,” LeBron James said. “He plays at a high level every single game. Just his availability, he’s always in uniform. And that’s what separates him from other guys around the league. He pretty much plays every game. And he’s very experienced. So we know what we’re going against. He comes in with energy and he plays the game the right way.”
In Game 6 of the semifinals against the Phoenix Suns, Caldwell-Pope was at his best.
He had 21 points on seven-for-11 shooting, two for five on three-pointers. He made all five of his free throws, had five rebounds, three assists, one blocked shot and two steals.
The Lakers are very aware of what he can do.
“Man, just again, versatile. Really a versatile defender,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “A guy that’s fast, that can score and make some good hustle plays, comes up with a lot of loose balls, long rebounds, 50-50 balls. And a competitor, a championship competitor with that pedigree.
“So, they have so many people that you have to account for but in different ways and you definitely have to match his speed and be aware of him, him running out for layups, him sprinting for corner threes. His energy is really infectious for their group.”
This story originally appeared on LA Times