Michael Malone has instilled the perfect chip-on-shoulder attitude

May 22, 2023, 6:20 AM | Updated: 8:54 am

Michael Malone...

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Nuggets strolled into Los Angeles on Saturday, in front of a star-studded crowd that is used to their team racking up W’s in the postseason, and sent a message. They aren’t intimidated by the Lakers; in fact, they’re ready to make quick work of their Western Conference Finals foe.

Denver pounced on L.A. from the jump. They led 28-14 in the first quarter and hardly looked back, the Lakers made it close at times, but the Nuggets only trailed for a total of 2:12 of the game.

On the road. Against a team with 17 championship banners hanging in the rafters. Versus LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with their season essentially on the line.

It ain’t over yet. But with a 3-0 lead, something that has led to a series win 100 percent of the time in NBA history, it pretty much is finished. Teams in a three-game hole are 0-149 all-time in the series.

The Nuggets are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. And they’re going there because their head coach has instilled a chip-on-their-shoulder attitude.

Since the start of the series, Michael Malone has sat in front of microphones and brashly barked at the media for overlooking his team. He’s chaffed at the attention given to the Lakers, calling it disrespectful to his Nuggets. He openly mocked the press asserting after Game 1 that L.A. had found some answers, even in defeat.

And his team has eaten it up.

Denver is playing like they’re trying to make a point. They’re talking trash and backing it up. They’re dominating in the glass, diving on the floor and burying big shot after big shot.

They’re playing like an underdog, despite being the No. 1 seed in the West. That’s because Malone acts like one.

It’s worked. He’s gotten Aaron Gordon to buy into his role as the defensive stopper. He has Michael Porter Jr. hitting the boards and playing defense. And he has a Bruce Brown getting into the heads of his opponents.

It’s a joy to watch. He’s turned the Nuggets into a bunch of bad dudes, in a very good way.

It helps to have Nikola Jokic. He’s the best player in the NBA, able to beat teams in a variety of ways.

It also helps to have Jamal Murray. He scored 23 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and followed it up with 30 points in the first half on Saturday night.

But Malone has perfectly blended the ingredients. He’s whipped his team into a frenzy.

His in-game moves may not be inspiring. But his between-games chirping has been top notch.

The Nuggets have played the Nos. 8, 4 and 7 seeds in the West. They very well could face another eighth seed in the Finals. Yet, they feel like David in every round, slaying Goliath in dramatic fashion.

A lot of the credit goes to their head coach. He’s mixed together a potent concoction.

And it has his team on the precipice of history. One win away from the NBA Finals. Five wins away from a title.



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