ROUND UP

Brother I have the top seed: Nuggets win West against Wolves

Apr 11, 2024, 1:57 AM | Updated: 12:37 pm

Christian Braun #0 of the Denver Nuggets dunks Rudy Gobert #27 of the west foe Minnesota Timberwolv...

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

DENVER—There’s evidence of what happened here.

Aaron Gordon’s champagne-protecting ski goggles still hang from his locker, players hit the showers wearing slides that feature a Larry O’Brien Trophy and most importantly there’s the mettle. These tchotchkes all tell the story of How the West Was Won.

Here is the Denver Nuggets locker room after the team picked up their biggest victory since topping the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. That night there were bubbles, cigars and what was just accomplished. This night was about beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-107 and what the team is on the precipice of accomplishing.

With two games to play in the regular season, the Nuggets now lead the Western Conference and have a magic number of two to clinch the top spot and home-court advantage until the NBA Finals. This was key last year when the Nuggets nabbed that No. 1 seed, propelling them to a 16-4 playoff record en route to the team’s first title, only losing once at home. In Ball Arena, the Nuggets are now 50-7 when their entire starting five plays—which happened on Wednesday for the first time since late March. Both teams were on a back-to-back coming off of wins, with each knowing the No. 1 seed was going to be in the hands of the winner. Both the Nuggets and Wolves went full bore on the night and Denver separated by winning the second half by 12.

“Really impressive win, we understood what was at stake tonight,” Micheal Malone said after the battle. “As I told our players before we went out there the, number one seed was there for us to take. And that’s what you have to do. You have to go out there and take it against a very good team.”

The Nuggets took it, and now have a death grip on it. Wrapping up the season with two wins wouldn’t just clinch home court but the franchise’s best record since joining the NBA.

Channeling Pitchfork’s review of Led Zeppelin’s How the West Was Won; it certainly means something when a team generates passionately divisive rhetoric as the Denver Nuggets have. They’re in a mid-market, their best player shifts all paradigms and they’re pretty much the example of how to marry the shooting and spacing era with that of pounding the ball. Some hot takers can’t stand it. And yes it can be cliche to talk about the cartoony named Joker, his sidekick Blue Arrow and their basketball lifer coach. Sure the Nuggets can get sleepy, their bench can struggle and their co-star is often injured. But when you see the power of an unbelievable in-game dunk, an athletically absurd shot block, a post pound or one of the best passes in the history of the game, all of which inspire biblical crowd cheers, you’re left with one thought: the Denver Nuggets are the best dang team in basketball.

“That was a big win for us because I thought a lot of players stepped up,” Aaron Gordon said postgame. “Obviously, big fella (Nikola Jokic) had a hell of a night Jamal (Murray) did a great job but I think a lot of people raised their level of play and that’s what you want to see coming down the stretch.”

Facing off with the soon-to-be four-time Defensive Player of the Year, the soon-to-be three-time league MVP plowed him like a railroad moving toward the Pacific Ocean with passengers only thinking about manifest destiny. In the amazing lore that Joker continues to build, a top moment is him mid-game talking to Rudy Gobert, who was calling off a double team, saying ‘Brother I have 47 (points.)’ Brother, Jokic took the West from Rudy like the Americans did his countryman Napoleon in 1803. Nikola finished with 41 points on 20 shots, adding 11 rebounds and seven assists.

“Baaaa! Baaaaaa! Baaaaaa!” Peyton Watson shouted in the locker room postgame, pointing at Jokic and referencing him as the GOAT. “Ge goes out and he’s so dominant. So often people take it for granted. But in games like this when it’s a big muscling game, you see that this is the game he shines brightest. I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d rather play with, absolutely amazing player.”

On the other side, there’s the losing Wolves.

“I don’t know, I don’t have to guard him,” T-Wolves star and likely West runner-up Anthony Edwards said about stopping Jokic “It looks hard. I dunno, motherf***er’s unstoppable. So I don’t know, you got to ask Naz (Reid) and Rudy and Kyle (Anderson.) It looks hard.”

Like Zeppelin’s brilliance, Jokic’s is effortless. It’s just one magical night after another that almost always ends in a win. He always makes the right move, he constantly plays the classics and nobody is shocked by any of it anymore. Yet Jokic is the one who actually had to train all of this into his game. It’s more than being bigger or smarter or hustling harder—it’s all of it plus a dash of creativity that barrows from some of the greatest hoopers of all time and maybe an alien of two.

“Yeah, I’m going to perpetuate that narrative—he doesn’t give a s***” Gordon said about Jokic and the thought that he Jokic doesn’t care about basketball. “His discipline, focus, level of commitment to the game of basketball and to his body is second to none. Everything he gets is earned.”

The mettle is more than the star, it’s the surroundings. It’s Gordon returning from injury to do whatever he’s told, it’s Murray going to consecutive battles when everyone is fighting him not to, it’s veterans humbling themselves for the young players who are surging against their foes.

That’s How the West Was Won on Wednesday—a star and his starlits taking it to the challengers. It’ll be the second-time the Nuggets have ever even won the Western Conference. But that’s the thing about winning the west now, Denver has already done it and then did something bigger—a ring—but they’ll need to do all of it again, and likely again and maybe a time after that if the victories are going to be described as dynastical. And these are the differences between a champion and a GOAT, a great group and one of the greatest ensembles to ever take the stage together—once you get one you need to keep winning and the Nuggets took another step for their reign to echo.

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