Nuggets Of Wisdom
By Martin Rogers
At some point relatively soon – reason, logic and the oddsmakers all suggest – the Disney adventure of the Denver Nuggets will be over.
There won’t be any great outpouring of sadness when it happens and it isn’t quite accurate to say that they’ll be missed, because that’s not really how sports work. When the NBA Finals are set (or the World Series, Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl for that matter) there is precious little time and thought devoted to those who “nearly” made it.
Yet when we take a look back at this fractured and unique season, the Nuggets are deserving of much more than just a passing mention.
Through Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, head coach Michael Malone and a tenacious and united support crew, the Nuggets have brought some of the prevalent tenacity of these times to Orlando. Some of the key societal concepts of remaining resolute during the coronavirus pandemic have been these: determination, adaptability, making the best of a revamped reality and finding a way to thrive through togetherness, teamwork and creativity.
The Nuggets are the basketball personification of all those traits. Frankly, they have been a joy to watch and without them, this would have been a postseason somewhat short on drama.
Denver is a team that has reminded us there is a reason they play the games. They have shown us that in the bubble, where home court advantage is entirely absent, you can turn every matchup into a coin flip if you refuse to let your head drop.
They have been a delightful addition and don’t be so fast to write them off just yet either. How could you after they rebounded against the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, each time after falling into a 3-1 hole? And after a 2-0 deficit to the Los Angeles Lakers was swiftly pegged back to a single game on Tuesday night?
“Everybody always has us packing our bags and leaving,” Malone told reporters. “But we're not ready to go. For some reason, we love this bubble.”
This is a team that has a slightly complicated story, and one that reflects the unique way in which the NBA is viewed. The Nuggets were never really a Cinderella team, but they have somehow felt like one, despite having a balanced group and two outstanding individual talents in Jokic and Murray.
More than any other sport, the NBA lauds its big names. The Nuggets were the third best team in the Western Conference and took a close look at second position until the final week of the regular season. Yet because Houston had James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and even the Oklahoma City Thunder had Chris Paul, Denver was a complete afterthought going into the postseason in Orlando.
Ever since then, the Nuggets have refused to be dismissed. FOX Bet has them listed at 8-to-1 odds to progress to the NBA Finals, slim odds, but better than those of all the teams who have already packed their bags and headed back to the outside world.
It feels odd to pay an overall tribute to Denver at a time when they are still punching harder than ever. The Nuggets secured a Game 3 victory thanks to Jokic’s physicality and forcefulness, Murray’s late dynamism, and excellent contributions from the likes of Jerami Grant and Monte Morris. If not for Anthony Davis’ wonder shot at the buzzer in Game 2, well…
“We feel like we should be up 2-1 right now, to be honest,” Murray said.
For most teams, being down 2-1 in a conference finals to LeBron James would be the definition of must-win. Not these Nuggets. Not with an attitude like that, which permeates the entire team. They are the coolest, calmest fighter in the right, because they've already shown they can answer the bell time and again.
No, these Nuggets deserved better than to be regarded as a token addition to the final four teams left in contention. Is this run an anomaly? Don’t be so sure. Good health and some judicious moves and this could be a team capable of contending at this level for several years to come.
“We all across the board said this series is over,” Brandon Marshall, co-host of FS1’s First Things First, said. “I believe it is not only time for us to take this series seriously but it is also time for us to change the perspective of how we talk about the Nuggets. It is time to really put them in that space as one of the premiere teams in the NBA.”
Murray’s sharpshooting efforts warranted Five Thirty Eight describing him as “the closest thing we’ve seen to Steph Curry,” and though the Lakers have a double-headed monster that is even more esteemed and far more famous than him and Jokic, Denver is starting to believe that its depth might prove telling.
“LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the Truth with a capital ‘T,’” wrote the Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla. “But the rest of this L.A. team are front-running Fakers with a capital ‘F.’ The Nuggets not only climbed back in the Western Conference Finals, but they also exposed a dirty, little L.A. secret.”
The secret is out on the Nuggets too and no one is going to be taking them lightly after what they’ve seen over the past month. Certainly not the Lakers right now in this series that surprisingly still has legs - and not anyone next season, either.