Kentavious Caldwell-Pope says LeBron James has gotten back his ‘spark’

DENVER – After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished his podium interview after Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, two people greeted him: LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Davis lamented that Caldwell-Pope rolled his right finger at him with just under two minutes left to lead the Denver Nuggets by three points, 127-124. “I’m digging you to the left,” Davis said, flashing a smile. “And then you come over here and do this, man.”

James hugged Caldwell-Pope and simply said, “What’s up, man?”

Three years ago, all three won a championship together in the Orlando bubble. They now find themselves in opposing locker rooms in the penultimate round of the playoffs, with Caldwell-Pope instrumental in leading the Nuggets to a 132-126 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, finishing with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting. three triples, two rebounds, three assists and two steals.

“They’re my brothers, man,” Caldwell-Pope told FOX Sports. “At the end of the day, we’re brothers off this court. But right now, on the court, in this series we’re going to save that brotherly stuff until after the series.”

Still, Caldwell-Pope admitted he’s very happy to see James in a position to compete for his fifth ring.

After all, in October, he wondered if James’ greatness was being wasted in the twilight of his career. “I don’t think I see that spark in Bron,” Caldwell-Pope told ESPN after the Lakers’ 2-10 start. “So, I hope I can get him back.”

Asked if Caldwell-Pope feels differently about James now, he laughed.

“He’s got it back,” Caldwell-Pope told FOX Sports. “I feel like it happened after the trade deadline. Just watching them play, I watched almost every game. It’s relentless. Just watching him do what he’s doing at his age and the years he’s been in the league . it’s really amazing.”

How do Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets match up with LeBron, Anthony Davis and the Lakers?

How do Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets match up with LeBron, Anthony Davis and the Lakers?

There’s still plenty of love between Caldwell-Pope, James and Davis, who spent nearly 100 days together in the bubble.

Together, the Lakers won their first championship in a decade despite a season that included the death of Kobe Bryant, the league halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then restarted on a Walt Disney campus World, away from their homes and families. .

During that run, Caldwell-Pope was a dogged defender, a hustler and a guy who could provide the Lakers with bursts of scoring.

But after four seasons with the Lakers, he was dealt to the Washington Wizards as part of a deal to acquire Russell Westbrook in August 2021. The Nuggets acquired him last July.

Caldwell-Pope still thinks highly of the Lakers’ 2020 championship team. In fact, when asked if he thinks this team or the current iteration of the Lakers is better, he didn’t hesitate.

“Ooooh, I’m coming with us,” he said. “For sure.”

But things have worked out more than well for Caldwell-Pope, who has proven essential for the Nuggets.

This postseason, Caldwell-Pope is averaging 10.5 points on 47.7% shooting from the field, 39.1% shooting from beyond the arc, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per party

In Game 6 of the conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns, he had 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, five rebounds, three assists, one blocked shot and two steals.

And on Tuesday, he finished with the second-highest plus-minus score of anyone on the court (16), behind only Michael Porter Jr. (20).

Nikola Jokic said: “KCP is a champion, he’s a winner, he knows what to do. He’s a pro. He’s vocal, he’s tough. So he knows what his role is. And he’s doing it the best in the world.”

Added coach Michael Malone: ​​”What I’m seeing is a 10-year vet who has won a world championship and is built for moments like these.”

Can Anthony Davis slow down Nikola Jokic in Lakers-Nuggets series?

Can Anthony Davis slow down Nikola Jokic in Lakers-Nuggets series?

Caldwell-Pope believes his time with the Lakers was instrumental in his growth. In fact, he credits James with teaching him a lot.

“How to be a leader, how to put my team in certain situations and how to prepare my team,” Caldwell-Pope told FOX Sports. “I’ve learned a lot from him, just watching him and playing with him.”

On Tuesday, James finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and one blocked shot. Davis had 40 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Together, they cut the Lakers’ 21-point deficit to just three points with 1:12 left.

Caldwell-Pope knows firsthand what his team is up against in this series.

So as soon as he appeared in court Tuesday, he looked at the boys he calls his brothers as his enemies.

And until his team wins three more games, that won’t change.

“Before I even bounced the ball, I was walking up to them, hitting them, not saying anything,” Caldwell-Pope told FOX Sports. “It’s war. It’s all love and war at the end of the day.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He 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.

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