Some of you American sports fans might be done with the NBA for the 2022-23 season. With the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Golden State Warriors all eliminated, some may feel that it’s time to prepare NFL fantasy draft strategies. Feel free, but with the Denver Nuggets playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals I am sure Nikola Jokić and Co. have gained some new fans. For those who can maintain some interest in a Mountain Time Zone storyline, the reward will be more of the best offensive basketball ever played.
A single-elimination NBA playoff would change history
As favorable of an opinion as I have had of the Nuggets throughout this season, their overall depth left me a bit uneasy about their postseason prospects. The only true threat off of their bench is Bruce Brown. Similar depth issues put a roadblock in front of the championship hopes of the 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers.
Through three rounds of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, the Nuggets have been successful with a tight rotation. Only eight players have averaged double-digit minutes per game. At 11.8 minutes per game, Christian Braun has averaged the least amount of time in that group. No one else is playing less than 19 minutes per game.
Denver getting help from its role players, bench
Those Nuggets who do take the floor, any one of them can provide a key performance that can steady the team so Jokić and Murray don’t have to carry the load every single second. In Game 3 against the Lakers, Brown and Jeff Green provided a spark off of the bench that got the Nuggets to the point where Murray and Jokić could finish off the 3-0 lead — along with some hot third-quarter shooting from former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
In Game 4 it was starter Aaron Gordon whose paddling kept the boat on course. He has played at a near All-Star level for the Nuggets throughout this season, but only occasionally do his 3-pointers fall. Even though his team was up 3-0 on the Lakers, going into Monday night he had not made a single shot from behind the arc in the series.
With the Lakers giving Gordon whatever he wanted at the 3-point line, he went 3-of-5 from that distance on his way to a 22-point night in Game 4. Not only did he make his first 3-pointer of the series, but he also cracked 13 points for the first time. Those 3-point attempts were all converted in the second and third quarters. One of those 3rd-quarter threes kept the Lakers from reestablishing a double-digit lead, and the other gave the Nuggets a four-point lead near the end of the period.
Maybe Gordon doesn’t feel empowered to take those seismic shots if the series is closer, but considering he is one of several non-$100 million earning teammates who are all making timely offensive contributions, that is proof that the Nuggets as a whole are one of the greatest shows on earth.
The Nuggets left their comfy altitude advantage to play in front of 17 championship banners, the legends of Hollywood, the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, and four active players who hold a total of seven NBA Championship rings. The Lakers gave the Nuggets every bit of effort and talent they had at their disposal, and still were not able to hold off the offensive onslaught long enough to pull out a victory.
As the Miami Heat showed on Sunday night, shot-making is brutal. A team working through picks and a shot clock on defense and still getting a contested bucket buried on them, takes those like open blows to the chest. The Lakers fought with all of their might through one of the most competitive four-game sweeps ever witnessed, but they couldn’t land enough blows in return to stay in the fight with one of the four teams remaining from the defunct ABA.
For one of the best defensive teams in the league to put up its best effort and come 4-0 short, the victor has certainly earned some attention from the sports-watching public. There is no way to predict what will happen with this team in the future, so appreciate the 2022-23 version of the Nuggets while they are here.
They have two stars that produce the most dangerous pick-and-roll action arguably in NBA history. Accompanying that is a 6-foot-10 shooter — Michael Porter Jr. — who always has to be accounted for while defenses still have to stay on Jokić and Murray. With the attention that those three require, Caldwell-Pope, Gordon, Brown, and Green, are going to get ideal looks. Opposing defenses are forced to cut their losses and hope for the best.
So while Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington won’t be courtside at Ball Arena in early June, there will still be a show playing worth the eyes of anyone with access to the ABC-aired NBA Finals. The team with the highest offensive rating in the NBA playoffs will have home-court advantage at a 5,280-foot elevation. Sports fans who decide not to watch will be missing a once-in-a-lifetime show.
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