For the first time ever, the Nuggets are favorites to reach the Finals.
Yes, we’re talking about the Nuggets. A team that has never reached the Finals. A one-time ABA franchise that has always been viewed as just sort of … there.
It was Lakers this, Lakers that, oh look at how great the Lakers have been since the trade deadline. And when people weren’t talking about the Lakers, it was Durant, or Stephen Curry and the Warriors, or even the Kings and their remarkable resurgence.
But the Nuggets? No one believed. Worse, some NBA fans didn’t even notice.
Now, the Nuggets lead the Lakers by a 3-0 count. They are one win from the Finals. The Lakers really gave it a great shot in both Games 2 and 3. The Nuggets are just (gasp) the better team. Have been all season.
This really should come as no surprise. The Nuggets are great, and no one expected them to ever win this series. At least, no one with much of a voice.
So they knew what their mindset had to be entering Saturday night.
“The mindset is you have to go out there and take it,” coach Michael Malone told reporters.
Man, did the Nuggets do just that, using 30 first-half points from Murray to keep LA at bay. Then when the Lakers made a charge in the fourth quarter, taking the lead, the Nuggets did what they always seem to do. They stayed calm. They made shots. They got rebounds. They moved the ball.
Led by the ballhandling skills and coolness of Jokic, this is just the Nuggets way. It’s almost an attitude of, “Don’t worry about … we got this.”
Murray finished with 37 points. Jokic went for 24 and eight assists after a slow start. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17 points), Bruce Brown (15), Michael Porter Jr. (14), Aaron Gordon and even old-timer Jeff Green had plenty of moments as well.
Basically, it was a teamwide effort in the truest sense.
But guess what? That’s nothing new. That’s just the Nuggets, even if it took this weekend for you to notice.
“We’re the underdogs. We don’t get enough credit for what we do,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We’re No. 1 in the West for a reason. And not being talked about, we don’t get enough credit, and we take that personally.”
You'd never know it based on social media or by which teams get all the national coverage, but the Denver Nuggets are just doing exactly what they've done all season.
— Sam Amico (@AmicoHoops) May 21, 2023