Ohm Youngwave | ESPNReading: 5 min.
DENVER — The Miami Heat are just the second eighth seed in history to reach the NBA Finals, but Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone told his players Tuesday to rule out the seed.
Malone said his matchup against the relentless Heat will be the biggest challenge the Nuggets have ever faced.
“You get to the NBA Finals, it’s not about rankings anymore,” Malone said after practice. “And for those of you who are thinking this is going to be an easy series, I don’t even know what to tell you.
“This is going to be the biggest challenge of our lives. This is the NBA Finals. You’re trying to win the first NBA championship in franchise history and it’s going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done, as it should be.” “.
The Nuggets haven’t played since completing their sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals on May 22. But Tuesday was the first day they could focus their attention on the Heat and how to stop Jimmy Butler.
After beating Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns in the first round, Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Kevin Durant in the second round, and the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the conference finals, the Nuggets have to figure out how to contain Butler.
Butler is averaging 28.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 48.3% from the field. But Malone said there’s more to Butler than just stats.
“When I look at Jimmy Butler, what separates him from most players is drive: The competitive spirit within him, a relentless attack,” Malone said. “It was really cool to see the press conference they showed last year when they lost and how everything he talked about at the time came to fruition a year later and he has this team back in the Finals.
“What makes Jimmy difficult to target is that we know he’s talented, he’s big, he’s strong, he can get to his spots on the floor, but he has the gift of creating fouls and getting to the free throw line. He’s a He’s a great player at the moment. He’s not afraid. He’s tough. He’s relentless and he’s a warrior.”
Aaron Gordon has had success defending the Nuggets’ top scoring options this postseason. But Gordon said he knows he’ll be very busy with Butler if the task falls to him. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown could also see time defending Butler.
“Jimmy is tough for different reasons than guys I’ve defended in the past like KD, LeBron, KAT,” Gordon said. “Jimmy does everything. He does all the intangible stuff. He transitions out. He gets cuts. He gets offensive rebounds. He gets back doors. He gets spins. He also does a lot of the game within the game.
“Make things difficult for him, play without fouling to the best of my ability and compete.”
In the second round against Phoenix, the Nuggets had trouble slowing down Booker, especially at midrange. Booker averaged 30.8 points, 7.8 assists and 56.9% shooting. But Denver held the Suns’ scorer to a total of 40 points and a combined 12-of-32 shooting in the final two wins of that series to eliminate Phoenix.
Like Booker, Butler likes to go downhill and deal damage in the midrange.
“He’s gone crazy,” Gordon said. “I don’t really set goals for [cuántos] points [mantenerlo]. I just want to make it as difficult as possible for him all night through a whole series.
“Just doing everything that gets hard. Make him work for everything… If he hits his mark of 27 [puntos] but take whatever number of shots it is, it’s a win.”
Since seeding began in 1984, the Heat are the first 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals since the New York Knicks in 1999. But the Nuggets don’t underestimate them.
“We have the greatest respect for them,” Gordon said. “They fight and they fight, and they don’t give up. They play for 48 minutes a game and more if necessary. They play without fear. They play disciplined. They are well trained and they have some guys who have been there before.
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