NUGGETS

The magical and motivated Nuggets must now reach the mountaintop

May 24, 2023, 6:00 AM

What a feeling.

What a ride.

And it’s still not over yet.

When the Denver Nuggets exorcised so many demons by beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night, it’s almost like you could hear the whole city let out a giant sigh of relief.

The franchise’s first time taking down the Lakers, first time sweeping a series and most importantly first time going to the NBA Finals.

That sentence still doesn’t even feel real.

With the Avalanche a season ago, we had to go deep in our memory banks or down a YouTube rabbit hole, but the evidence was there they were capable of winning championships. The 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cups were proof that team could take home a title.

With the Nuggets, no such history exists. There are plenty examples of heartbreak (which we don’t need to reset), but none of them getting over the hump. Well, it finally happened. Come June 1, Denver will be playing on the world’s biggest basketball stage.

That’s where it gets a little tricky. Are we happy to be here? Or do the next seven games (or fewer) decide whether or not this season was a success?

Frankly, we should probably take our cue from the players and coaches.

After the Nuggets beat the Lakers to go up 3-0, star guard Jamal Murray brushed off a question about only needing one more win. He mentioned five, the number at the time it would take to emerge as the last team left.

Head coach Michael Malone made that clear in a video shared from the locker room on Monday night. He told the team this was a big step, but it wasn’t what they set out to do. Denver’s goal is to win the NBA Finals.

That’s good enough for me. If the mentality all along has been the Nuggets need a championship for this season to be truly special, why would that change now? With the organization embracing those expectations, fans should feel the same way.

If you lived in this town 15.5 years ago, you remember how special the 2007 Rockies were. “Rocktober” was a truly memorable time in Denver sports history.

But there was also a sense after the Rockies won 21 of 22 games to reach the World Series that they had reached their peak. Sure, a layoff of more than a week messed with their mojo and timing, but the Rockies were outclassed by the Red Sox. Colorado got swept in four games, and Boston claimed its second title since breaking the infamous curse.

The Nuggets face a similar delay, waiting until next Thursday to tip things off, but fortunately basketball is a lot less reliant on momentum. Heck, it felt like Denver took the final month of the regular season off (key guys sat multiple games), and it hasn’t affected their performance in the playoffs.

The Nuggets are 12-3. One of those losses was in OT in Minnesota when they were already up 3-0. In the other two, Phoenix’s Devin Booker played out of his mind. All three defeats come with an easy explanation.

That’s why this team is too good not to win it all. Whether the opponent is Boston (still needing a miracle) or Miami, it shouldn’t matter. This hasn’t been about anyone else in this postseason — it’s been about the Nuggets.

Murray’s emerged as one of the best guards in the NBA. Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown have all had big moments. And Nikola Jokic has proven time and again he’s the top player on Earth.

Denver’s the best team in the NBA. The last 38 days have shown that. All that’s left is to finish the job.

There’s no reason to think they can’t, and there will absolutely be some disappointment if they don’t.

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