Pivoting from underdog to heavy favorite will challenge the Nuggets

Jun 1, 2023, 7:00 AM | Updated: 10:14 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)

Smart money is betting on the Nuggets in the NBA Finals. They’re -400 heading into the series. That means Nuggets backers will need to bet $400 to win $100. That’s how little the experts in the desert think of the Miami Heat.

Nearly every national pundit, including the most-respected among us, like DMac and Mike Evans — are predicting a walk in the park for the Nuggets. It’s not a matter of if the Nuggets will win, but how many games they’ll let the Heat win. Through boredom. Rust. Indifference. Whatever. The outcome is inevitable.

The only question is, will Nikola toy with his food or will he go for the throat?

Either way, everyone agrees that the Nuggets will win. This alone should alarm us.

When “everyone agrees” on something, start looking for the exits. We have witnessed the “everyone agrees” groupthink backfire in the past.

Ask the heavy underdog Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII.

Everyone agreed that the Packers would win that game. Well, almost everyone. The Broncos had a quiet confidence and used the “everyone agrees” narrative as a powerful stimulant on their way to becoming champions.

Never underestimate a professional athlete’s ability to respond to perceived disrespect. To being underestimated. Written off. Counted out. Just like the treatment the Heat are getting right now. Just like the Nuggets got all year.

Isn’t it ironic.

The entire Nuggets championship run has been about that idea precisely — disrespect. Michael Malone tapped into it all season. Somehow, a team that was in first place in the Western Conference since mid-December became an underdog. Somehow everyone agreed that it wouldn’t be Denver sitting where they now find themselves, in the NBA Finals.

And now everyone who agreed the Nuggets wouldn’t make it here now agree they are going to win it easily? Do you see anything weird about this?

Either way, Eric Spoelstra has a lot to work with here.


It’s a tried-and-true motivational tactic. They don’t respect us! And it’s been fueling upsets since before the smart money was born.

The Heat will come out hot and try to throw the first punch. If they can steal Game 1, they gain the upper hand immediately.

The greater challenge here is for Malone. Aside from the unusual nine days of rest leading up to tonight’s game, he now must pivot from disrespected underdog mentality to that of a clear cut favorite that everyone agrees will win easily.

Malone must convince his players that the Heat are a better basketball team than the smart money says they are. How do you do that?

“The seeding doesn’t matter anymore,” Malone said on Tuesday. “This is the NBA Finals. We are in for the fight of our lives.”

But it’s not enough for the coach to say it. To translate onto the court, the players must buy in. And Nikola Jokic has.

When asked about the Nuggets being favored against Heat, Joker said echoed his coach.

“The fight of our lives,” he said.

Message received.



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Pivoting from underdog to heavy favorite will challenge the Nuggets