Here are the five things you need to know about the Western Conference champions as they make a bid for their first Larry O’Brien Trophy.
1. Yes, the Nuggets are that good
Even though they finished with the best record in the Western Conference (53-29), many around the league still thought the conference was wide open entering the postseason.
Apparently, that was a big mistake.
This postseason, the Nuggets turned heads when they beat the fourth-seeded Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals in six games, even though the Suns were global favorites to win the series. Then, the Nuggets made an even bigger statement in the conference finals, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James literally tipped his cap to Nikola Jokic after Game 4, saying the Nuggets were one of the best, if not the best team that he and Anthony Davis have faced since they teamed up in L.A. in 2019.
“Just well-orchestrated, well put together,” James said. “They have scoring. They have shooting. They have playmaking. They have smarts. They have length. They have depth.
” … When you have a guy like Jokic, who [is] as big as he is, but also as cerebral as he is, you can’t really make many mistakes versus a guy like that,” he added. “And even when you guard him for one of the best possessions that you think you can guard him, he puts the ball behind his head Larry Bird-style, and shoots it 50 feet in the air, and it goes in, like he did four or five times this series.”
Throughout the playoffs, Jokic (the unanimous Western Conference finals MVP) and Jamal Murray have played like superstars. The team’s role players have excelled, with strong performances from Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. And the Nuggets have had the best offensive rating (119.7), net rating (8.0), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.27) and player impact estimate (54.5) of all the 16 teams this postseason.
As Nuggets coach Michael Malone has repeatedly pointed out, it’s time to stop underestimating the Nuggets.
3. Jokic’s growth has been stunning
For those who aren’t aware, here’s a quick rundown of how Jokic arrived at this moment: He was selected by the Nuggets with the 41st pick in the 2014 draft. When his name was called, a Taco Bell commercial was airing. No one expected him to become one of the best players in the NBA, not even Malone.
“I always think about this and laugh because that first Summer League in Vegas: 300 pounds, out of shape,” Malone said. “He’s a nice player. No one — and if anybody tells you different, they’re full of s— — no one ever could have seen that he’d be a two-time MVP, passing Wilt Chamberlain it seems like every other night.”
Jokic devoted himself to transforming his body. He lost weight. He gained muscle. He developed stamina. Malone recently said Jokic’s “work ethic is off the charts,” adding that he’s constantly practicing and hitting the weight room.
The funny thing is that even to this day, Jokic’s conditioning is often questioned because he doesn’t jump the highest or rely on lightning speed. But anyone who has studied him knows that he’s one of the best athletes in the world.
Perhaps no one said that better than Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who recently revealed a discussion he had with his staff before Game 1.
“I think he’s one of the most highly-conditioned players of his caliber in our league,” Ham said.
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Source: FOX Sports