National Basketball Association
Where do Nuggets rank among LeBron James' toughest opponents ever?
National Basketball Association

Where do Nuggets rank among LeBron James' toughest opponents ever?

Updated Apr. 26, 2024 9:17 a.m. ET

LeBron James could be on the verge of another first, though not the kind he'll wax poetic about through a proud grin. 

After the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series on Tuesday, 112-105, there's a chance James could get swept in consecutive postseasons for the first time in his 21-year career. The Lakers trail the series 3-0, following the Nuggets sweeping them in the 2023 Western Conference Finals.

It begs the question: Where do the Nuggets rank among the toughest opponents James has faced?

"It's definitely one of the better teams that I've played in my career," said James, who had 26 points on 12-for-20 shooting, six rebounds, nine assists and two steals. "But to rank it right now, that would be too hard. I've played against a lot of great teams. This is a great team. And I've played against a lot."


What's clear is that the Lakers can't seem to crack the Nuggets' code despite often looking as though they're finally going to punch their way out of the quicksand.

In Game 1, they led by as much as 12 points. In Game 2, they blew a 20-point advantage, with Jamal Murray making a game-winning buzzer-beater to twist the knife in the purple and gold's heart. And in Game 3, they once again squandered a 12-point advantage.

The Lakers can play this team closely, but they've ultimately fallen apart in the second halves, with the Nuggets outscoring them 177-135 over those periods. Offensive rebounding and 3-point shooting have been issues. And ultimately, the Nuggets just seem to have more guys who are playing well on any given night.

In Game 3, LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 59 points while the rest of the Lakers' starters had only 27. Meanwhile, Nuggets starters not named Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray outscored their superstar counterparts, 54-46.

"This team is definitely well-equipped, well-prepared, well-coached," James said. "They do not have a weakness offensively. Every guy that they put on the floor, especially the starting lineup, they have been one of the best starting fives in our league over the last few years.

Move over LeBron and KD; it is Anthony Edwards, SGA's time in this new NBA generation

"They've got shot makers. They have playmakers. They have guys that can rebound and assist and things of that nature. So they always try to keep you at bay."

The Nuggets are strong, deep and stunningly dominant, so much so that it wouldn't surprise anyone if they became the league's next dynasty — least of all Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who exclaimed at the championship parade last June, "Let's do this s--t again!"

There's Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP who perennially seems to set the bar on every advanced stat. There's Jamal Murray, who has yet to make an All-Star team but is one of the best postseason performers in the league. And there's a cast of role players, from Aaron Gordon to Michael Porter Jr. to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who play with grit and heart, starring in their roles.

James has faced a lot of formidable opponents throughout his career.

Before last postseason, he had only been swept twice — in 2007 by the San Antonio Spurs who were at the peak of their powers, and in 2018 by the Golden State Warriors, who won four championships in eight years from 2015-2022.

Over the last two decades, James has seen it all, from a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal to an Oklahoma City team with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant — and Spurs and Warriors franchises that have dominated the league.

But this Nuggets team has a chance to do something to James no other team has done before.

And after Game 3, it seemed as though the Lakers might not have the requisite belief to prevent a sweep from happening.

[Want great stories delivered right to your inbox? Create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow leagues, teams and players to receive a personalized newsletter daily.]

The Lakers' body language looked more defeated than defiant as they walked off the court. D'Angelo Russell, who shot 0-for-7 from the field, didn't participate in a late-game huddle and left without talking to reporters. Even James seemed like he was going through the motions when asked if he believed the Lakers could become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 deficit.

"We're gonna come in with the mindset of, 'Let's get one,'" James said. "Force a Game 5 and then we go from there. So, as long as you still have life, then you always have belief. I just think you play until the wheels fall off. That's what it's always about for me."

James, who last season became the league's all-time leading scorer and this season has averaged more than three times (25.7 points) what any player has averaged in their 21st season, is now staring at a first he'd like to avoid.

And making matters worse, it comes against a Nuggets team that has won 11 games in a row against the Lakers.

Or, in his words, one of the better teams he has faced. 

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
National Basketball Association
Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James

Get more from National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more