Kidnapping Nikola Jokic may be best way for Anthony Davis, Lakers to slow down Nuggets

Darvin Ham waxed poetic about Nikola Jokic Monday the way Broncos scribes yap about Patrick Mahomes.

You gush. You glorify. You genuflect. You joke about committing a felony to try and keep a legend from showing up. Only the more you think about it in real time, the better idea said felony becomes.

“(We’re going to) try to catch him coming out of his house and kidnap him,” the Lakers coach cracked at Ball Arena when asked about defending the Nuggets’ star center.

Ham’s grin said he was kidding. We think.

“No, I mean, obviously, everyone knows how great he is,” the Lakers coach continued. “And you just have to mix up pitches … but we have a few different guys that will see action against him and just try to put your best foot forward every time out.”

You laugh, but kidnapping might be the best card the Lake Show can play against the Joker this week. Tinseltown’s glorious 2020 supervillain, Dwight Howard, is 7,000 miles away in Taiwan at present, playing for the Taoyuan Leopards when he’s not busy trolling the Chinese government. Big man Mo Bamba was still in Los Angeles Monday getting his wonky left ankle looked at.

Which means that after Anthony Davis, the Lakers for Games 1 and 2 in Denver are likely to throw some combination off the bench at Jokic that consists of 6-foot-9 Tristan Thompson, 6-8 former Nugget Jarred Vanderbilt and 6-9 Wenyen Gabriel.

They’d be better off with the whole felony plan, frankly.

Since the fall of 2020, per tracking data, the Joker’s scored 64 points over his last 31 minutes and 41 seconds of regular-season action while being guarded by either Thompson, old friend Vanderbilt or Gabriel. In simplest terms, that’s a bucket (2.02 points) per minute.

In slightly less simple terms, that’s 24.2 points per quarter. In somewhat hilarious terms, that’s 80.8 points every 40 minutes. He’s shooting 60.8% from the floor, combined, against that combo of Lakers reserves while drawing a shooting foul every 7.9 minutes.

When it comes to slowing the Joker, Ham would probably get more juice from rolling out a trio of Larry, Moe and Shemp than he would from the law firm of Thompson, Vanderbilt & Gabriel.

“You’re not going to speed (Jokic) up, you’re not going to slow him down,” the Lakers coach stressed. “You just have to make sure you have a presence on him at all times. (There are) going be times where you’re not going to pitch a shutout against him.”

Given the benefits of hindsight and 7,000 miles of safe distance, Howard’s goonish Game 1 antics against the Nuggets in 2020 proved to be a masterclass in the dark arts of the postseason. He popped his noggin inside the Nuggets’ huddle. He poked. He prodded.

“The crazy part about it is that we were all staying in the same hotel,” Howard told podcaster Etan Thomas in November 2020. “For me, I just felt like it was mental warfare …  (Denver’s) meal room was actually across the hallway from our meal room. So we saw them every day, and I would go in there and I would speak to everybody. And every time I saw The Joker, I would be like, ‘You ready for the game tonight? You ready for tonight?’

“I was just trying to get in (Jokic’s) head because I think he’s a really good player and sometimes the battle is won off the court.”

Here’s the thing, though: Head games don’t work as well on the Joker as they did three years ago. He’s a dude and a dad, eight victories away from forcing Kendrick Perkins and Nick Wright to kiss his ring forever. The man’s grown up before our very eyes, hardened by the peanut galleries at ESPN and FS1 hurling tomatoes at both of his MVP awards. More smiles. More shrugs. Fewer shoves.

“I think (in 2020), that was a couple of years back,” Ham noted. “I think (Jokic has) grown tremendously since then.

“The biggest thing for us is just to try to disrupt him, try to keep him off-balance and create some type of indecision with our work, our activity, our multiple efforts and live with the results.”

Or die by them. Jokic is a cagey son of a biscuit who’s learned when to twist a knife once it’s stuck between somebody’s shoulder blades. Last series, the Joker even ripped a page out of Howard’s 2020 manual, crashing one of the Suns’ huddles during Game 5 and drawing a shove from Kevin Durant in the process.

A game later, Phoenix was toast. Talent still borrows plenty in the NBA Playoffs. But genius kidnaps.

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