Lakers’ LeBron James on Nikola Jokic: “He’s one of the best players to ever play this game.”

From Tim Duncan to Kevin Garnett and Steph Curry, LeBron James’ 21-year NBA career has featured postseason matchups against some of the best to ever do it. For the Lakers forward, Nikola Jokic is right there among them.

“He’s one of the best players to ever play this game. It’s that simple,” James said after practice on Friday at Ball Arena.

James said he feels healthier than last year when Los Angeles got swept by the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. And that’s essential when trying to match Jokic’s physicality for 40 minutes on the court.

James, a four-time MVP and the league’s all-time scorer, called Jokic a “damn good” basketball player that can do everything on the floor. But what stands out to Bron the most is how Jokic makes the players around him better.

“He changes the way his teammates think about their own play,” James said. “When you are able to inspire your teammates at a level that they don’t feel like they can play at, that’s a true testament.”

The Lakers understand they have to be mindful of Jokic’s ability to score around the rim and effortlessly find teammates for buckets. James is also mindful of Jokic’s pedal-to-the-medal energy in transition, an element that might be overlooked in his game.

“He has a great motor,” James said. “We know that. The players that play against him know that. That’s just a horrible narrative.”

Defending Jokic is not as simple as having Lakers forward Anthony Davis guard him for an entire game. By doing so, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said they would risk Davis getting into foul trouble. They have to wait for the right moment to throw one of the league’s best defenders on the two-time MVP.

Ham added that Jokic is good at developing a rhythm for whatever defensive scheme an opponent utilizes, which means his team has to throw multiple looks at him.

“It’s only a matter of time before he figures things out,” Ham said. “He and (Nuggets guard) Jamal (Murray). You just want to change up your pitches. Sometimes that not only includes your coverages but matchups are involved in all of that too.”

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