Posted at 1:16 a.m.
Updated at 7:00 a.m.
The Nuggets finished the season atop the Western Conference (53-29). They have only lost three times since the start of the playoffs. Nine days have passed since Michael Malone’s men swept the Los Angeles Lakers. There may be a little rust to start this Thursday evening, but the little sores will also have had time to heal. The Heat, meanwhile, called themselves pain and misery (44-38, plus two games in the tournament play-in). Miami looked good against the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks, then was on course to crush the Boston Celtics. Erik Spoelstra’s team didn’t become the first in NBA history to crumble after taking a 3-0 lead, but it’s been a demanding series. However, the famous Heat Cultureestablished since 1995 by the mythical Pat Riley, seems to obtain its best results in the face of adversity.
Nikola Jokić could certainly have won a third consecutive Most Valuable Player (MVP) title this year. Statistically, his 2022-2023 season was superior to the previous two. Since the start of the playoffs, the 2.11m (6’11”) Serbian has averaged essentially 30 points per game, with a save percentage of just under 54%, in addition to 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists – a triple double! MVP statistics, without a doubt. No one at the Heat will be able to stop him, but if there’s one player who can rival his ability to influence a game, it’s Jimmy Butler. Able to step up his game like no other, Playoffs Jimmy is an exceptional leader who also scores close to 30 points per game during these series.
Jokić and Butler also make their teammates better. With his exceptional game vision, the Nuggets center regularly manages to spot Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope behind the three-point line. Along with Bruce Brown and Aaron Gordon, KCP is also one of Denver’s most reliable defenders. Jamal Murray is, however, the one who is really essential to the success of the Nuggets. Returning to the game since October after an 18-month absence to recover from knee surgery, the point guard from Kitchener, Ont., is a formidable scorer. At the Heat, Bam Adebayo will try to slow down Jokić, but must absolutely support Butler on offense. Miami hopes Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent, two players who weren’t drafted, continue to wow as Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love can’t provide as much as they used to. The three-point success of Duncan Robinson, Max Strus and Tyler Herro, who are expected to make a comeback, will be key.
The Nuggets have won 9 of the last 10 games against the Heat. In addition to being rested, Denver dominates on paper almost every individual matchup. The formation of Colorado is also physically much more imposing. Its defense can be porous at times, but it gives little room to maneuver inside the key. Floridian shooters will have to be very effective, because the tenacity of Jimmy Butler and the strategic genius of Erik Spoelstra have their limit. Additionally, the Mile High City’s elevation (1,609m above sea level) favors homegrown players, who, thanks to their in-season record, enjoy home-court advantage. There will be lots of points, great plays and hopefully close results. I believe, however, that the Heat do not have enough resources to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy.
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