In a “me first” league, the Nuggets win with ultimate team approach

May 23, 2023, 6:43 AM | Updated: 8:06 am

Nikola Jokic...

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The wait for the NBA Finals will be torturous. Nine painful days await Nuggets fans until they can lustfully cheer their conquering heroes.

“I’m trying to figure out where to go,” said coach Michael Malone when asked about the upcoming long break. “I may go to Cabo for a few days. Have a margarita.”

To the dismay of the NBA broadcasting partners, the Nuggets have created a big problem. They won too quickly.

For the first time in team history, they swept a series. For the first time in team history, they are going to the NBA Finals.

Nikola Jokic won the Western Conference Finals MVP, as he passed Wilt Chamberlin for the most playoff triple-doubles in league history. The Nuggets edged the Lakers by a 113-111 count, in a come-from-behind win for the ages. They had to beat (arguably) best player of all-time to get it done.

“I was talking to (Anthony Davis) in the locker room, ” LeBron James said about the Nuggets. “It’s the best team we’ve played against in our last four years.”

James, who set a personal record on the night, scoring 31 first-half points, respectfully passed the torch.

“When you have Joker you can’t make many mistakes,” praised James. “Even when you guard him as well as possible, he puts the ball behind his head Larry Bird-style (and scores).”

Jokic hit another improbable Sombor Shuffle three-pointer with 2:50 remaining in the game. Time was winding down on the shot clock leaving Jokic no choice but to chuck it up.

“That’s my signature shot,” joked the Joker.

As always, Jokic deferred and deflected praise. It’s his innate nature.

“It’s an easy shot because you have to shoot it,” said Jokic downplaying another miracle shot. “I’m off-balance my whole life. That’s kind of normal for me.”

Accomplishing things for others has always meant more to Denver’s best hooper. His attitude stands in stark contrast to the other No 15 in Nuggets history.

Carmelo Anthony chose Monday, of all days, to announce his retirement from basketball. While both share the same number, which may make jersey retirements awkward, the similarities for Nuggets fans likely stop there.

“I’m really happy for the guys and the organization,” said Jokic. “I remember the days when you could hear the bounce of the ball because there were no fans. Now, we sell out every night. (Going to the Finals) means a lot for the collective that we have.”

Jokic didn’t stop the praise train. He also lavished kind words on Jamal Murray, whose return from injury remains inspiring.

“He thought they were going to trade him,” said Jokic. “I am so happy for Jamal. He’s worth it. He’s a special player in this league.”

In typical Jokic fashion, he said the MVP of the WCF meant nothing personally to him. It was meant to be shared by his teammates, coaches and the Kroenkes. This was on the same day when Bones Hyland tweeted that he demanded to be traded.

Malone couldn’t help himself when asked about Jokic. It has deeply bothered him about the way his pride and joy has been besmirched.

“He’s shown other people nationally that he’s real,” fumed Malone. “What he’s doing is real. The silly narratives are just that – silly. And just ignorant. Have you seen any stat padding out there? Give him his damn respect. Stop chopping down on him and give him his respect.”

Malone went on to speculate that Jokic was impacted by all the negative discussions of his MVP worthiness.

“This was the first year where, in my opinion, the talk around the MVP race got to him,” said Malone. “The negativity and knocking, I know it pissed me off.”

Jokic responded by saying people should stop being unfair to Joel Embiid!

“People are just mean, saying Embiid shouldn’t have won it,” said Jokic. “He should’ve won it. He was really amazing in 82 or how many games he played.”

Is Jokic just too good to be true?

Anthony will never fully be forgiven by fans for wanting to be dealt and now Bones will forever be remembered as the piece of the puzzle that needed to be removed. It was nice of the two of them to chirp up on the day when being part of the Nuggets collective meant everything and individualism long went out the door.

“We just want to make the most of the opportunity,” said Jamal Murray. “I think our chemistry is at an all-time high. It’s just beautiful basketball. It’s so fun to play. We got four more wins to go.”

After the game, the Jokic family surrounded Nikola with a large group hug. Jokic’s brothers joyfully tossed Malone up in air like a pillow pet. Joker’s teammates chanted MVP as he received an award he may leave at his locker… again.

Meanwhile you could hear Jeff Green say “the real one” as, ironically, Emmy Award-winning personality/reporter Lisa Salters (I kid you not, she won that award earlier in the day) put the trophy in his hands like a bothersome hot potato. Jokic handed it off as he was leaving the floor and didn’t bother bringing it to the press conference afterwards. That hunk of metal will be an impressive doorstop at a Serbian horse barn soon enough.

What separates the Nuggets from every other team in the league this year is they know what does and doesn’t matter. They have the talent, depth and experience to win it all. A championship will not be a surprise; it’s what they expect. There was a demure yet satisfied reaction in the locker room. They have earned several days off to either go to Cabo or Jokic’s preference, drift aimlessly in a swimming pool.

What you can be confident about more than anything else is that this team, despite the long break, will be ready for the moment.



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In a “me first” league, the Nuggets win with ultimate team approach