Will Nikola Jokić lead Denver to its first title or will Jimmy Butler fulfill his playoff prophesy?

Nikola Jokić vs. Jimmy Butler will be a key part of this NBA Finals

One of the least anticipated matchups in recent memory is upon us. The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat. Let’s be real here. No LeBron, no Jayson Tatum, and no Boston Celtics legends in the stands. Media members have been openly grousing all week about having to cover the Nuggets. That’s a cornball position to take for what could be the rise of a new Western Conference giant versus an all-time underdog run.

There isn’t much history between these two franchises except for an ignominious blindside retaliation by Nikola Jokić toward Markieff Morris in 2021. However, Morris is long gone. Jimmy Butler and the two-time MVP are the obvious primary storylines, but there are Chekhov’s guns lying all around with hairpin triggers that have the potential to be pulled at any moment.

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The Heat have the hottest trigger finger in the league right now. Miami was the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team en route to the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. After falling to 27th in 3-point percentage during the following season, they rediscovered their touch behind the arc, despite losing marksman Tyler Herro for almost the entire run. The Heat have been the NBA’s most efficient 3-point shooting team for the last month and a half. Denver is second in percentage. Neither team is as reliant on the deep space triple as Golden State, and they didn’t even rank in the top half of playoff teams in average 3-pointers in 2023.

Tyler Herro (l.) and Bam Adebayo

Tyler Herro is invaluable to Miami. Don’t listen to those weirdos who believe they made this run because the former Sixth Man of the Year was injured. In true Heat Culture fashion, Herro broke his hand midway through Game 1 of their first-round series diving for a loose ball. Since then, the next man up Caleb Martin has taken advantage of those minutes and transformed into Miami’s secondary option. Herro is expected to return to the Heat lineup by the time this series shifts back to Miami for Game 3.

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But he’ll likely be back to getting into rhythm with the second unit and it won’t be at an expense to Martin’s minutes. Spoelstra is going to ride this hot streak until the wheels fly off. In this postseason, Martin has the second-highest shooting percentage among non-big men who have played over 200 minutes. No. 1 is Devin Booker. His 43.8 percent shooting from downtown is spectacular, and his true shooting percentage is the best of any player in the Finals.

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Adebayo’s ability to stymie Jokić is obviously important. The Heat’s switch-heavy defense won’t be activating that function when Adbayo is attached to Jokić because the latter is a four-time All-Defense honoree. He can’t stop Jokić, he can only hope to contain the players most likely to win Employee of the Month at the dock. Adebayo can’t slouch on offense for another series though.

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Bam was borderline comatose in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not only will his capacity to keep Jokić from scoring at will dictate the pace of this series, but after getting reduced to rubble in the series against Boston’s more defensively inclined lineup, Spoelstra has to count on Adebayo as more than just a glorified screener on the other end. Adebayo shot 8-for-26 from the field over the final two games of the ECF and was turnover-prone throughout the series, before rallying with seven assists in the series clincher.

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Home-court advantage flew out the window for Boston and Miami. Probably because these two teams are so familiar with one another after a litany of battles over the years. Miami’s rotation was basically listing Boston as a second residence on their tax forms. Denver is a different case. The high altitude has always been considered an advantage for the Nuggets, but that strength has been amplified during a season in which Denver was already the class of the Western Conference.

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Meanwhile, Miami is the city of temptation. Scoff at it if you want, but the lure of South Beach is impossible to ignore in early June. Not to mention the humidity that had Mike Greenberg’s Knicks in a state of disarray. At home, the Nuggets are 42-7, including 8-0 in the postseason. South Beach is trying to avoid becoming an underwater city, the Pepsi Center lies 5,280 feet above sea level. Historically, Nuggets teams have turned to fast-paced offenses to give themselves an advantage. Studies have shown that in every major professional sport, Denver has the league’s biggest home-field advantage. The only exception is hockey where Calgary, the second-highest elevation of any NHL franchise, comes in second.

Eric Spoelstra

Miami comes into the Finals with a wealth of championship experience. Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent, and Eric Spoelstra all appeared in prior NBA Finals. Duncan Robinson, Vincent, Adebayo all cut their teeth in the Bubble Finals loss to L.A. Herro was the youngest player since Magic Johnson to start an NBA Finals game in 2020. Butler went shot-for-shot with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in those Finals. Kevin Love has now reached five postseasons and each one has ended in the NBA Finals, while Lowry earned his title in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors. There’s also the ornery sherpa Udonis Haslem, who has led Miami to seven NBA titles. OK, led is a strong word. He’s the spiritual plane leader. He ascended to the great basketball beyond years ago, but they keep his husk around as a source of wisdom.

Denver’s core is in their Huggies by comparison. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a critical member of the Lakers 2020 championship roster and Jeff Green made a cameo in the 2018 NBA Finals with Cleveland, but that’s it. Miami has a monopoly on the Finals experience equity, for whatever that’s worth.

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Jokić is a fundamentally flawed defensive big. Miami killed Boston from behind the arc in the Eastern Conference Finals as a necessity. Driving the lane consistently and finishing inside was arduous against Time Lord and Big Al. However, opponents shot 68.5 percent at the basket when Jokić was the closest defender, the second-highest in the league among players who contested at least four shots per game. Jimmy rolling downhill on Jokić, and Malone sending help defenders could result in an avalanche of points for Miami over the course of a seven-game series.

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Both the Heat and Nuggets have fashioned themselves as a team that demands more respect. The truth is the casual fan knows very little about both of these teams. It’s not the Celtics and Lakers, but variety is the spice of life. Denver is somehow both the NBA’s best playoff offense, and one of its least intriguing teams who haven’t had much of a say in the top of the West in the 50 years since transitioning to the ABA. Intro to Jokić will probably be lightly watched. Miami has been in the thick of these title races before, but usually with a supernova talent like Dwyane Wade, LeBron, Bosh, or Shaq in tow. The Jimmy Butler era has been all about grit and John Does.

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Jokić is the best passing big man the NBA has possibly ever seen and is simultaneously regarded for his lack of flair. Jokić may not even be the most beloved Nugget yet. David Thompson, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the Doug Moe-era Nuggets teams, and Carmelo were more celebrated, but Jokić’s incredible offensive efficiency sets him apart—as well as those two MVPs. Winning an NBA Finals would vault him to the next level of NBA superstardom.

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Jimmy Butler’s superstar application process has been denied every season. Suddenly, his workman in Timbs game has become the most discussed topic of the postseason and he fulfilled his own year-old prophecy by spearheading Miami’s Game 7 shellacking of the Boston Celtics. He’s been within a game or two of Larry O’Brien before. Earning a Finals MVP and a ring would thrust him into the superstar penthouse.

It’s been nearly two years since Jokić shoved Markieff Morris from behind, forcing him to miss four months of action and sparking a melee that culminated in an iconic image of Heat players standing outside the Nuggets locker room looking for Jokić. They got him now.

Boston’s ‘intimidating’ postseason home-court advantage is dead

The mystique is gone

Boston Celtics fans woke up Tuesday morning still stunned that their team lost by 19 points to the Miami Heat in TD Garden on Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Any hopes of back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals were ended by Caleb Martin. And the dream of being the first team to ever come back from down 3-0 turned into a nightmare on the first play of the game when Jayson Tatum turned his ankle.

See, Boston Garden. Brothas walk into that place and you can feel it like a cold wind. You find yourself running down the court tripping over thin air. Go to dribble, ball don’t bounce. Just sticks there, like a mud puddle. No logical explanation to it, either.” — Norm Nixon (played by his son DeVaughn Nixon) in Episode 7 “Invisible Man” of HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.

That isn’t the case anymore. Boston’s mystique has evaporated.

And while it’s understandable why everyone in Boston is hurting today. The outcome of Monday’s night game shouldn’t have been a shock, given how bad this core group has been when it comes to closing out games on their parquet floor.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

TD Garden has been a site of high-stakes playoff games

The last time the Celtics had a Game 7 on their home floor in the Eastern Conference Finals was in 2018. And like Monday night, they lost. LeBron James played every second of that game — without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — and finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists.

“It was pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys, and an absolute pleasure and privilege to be around them every day,” said the Celtics’ former head coach, and current president, Brad Stevens after the game. “We obviously have a good thing going.” Little did he know that more postseason heartbreaks were on the way.

In last year’s NBA Finals, the Celtics stunned the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 to take an early series lead. However, the most memorable game of that series took place in — you guessed it — Boston. With a 2-1 series lead and a chance to put the dagger in the Warriors, the Celtics melted at home in Game 4 when Steph Curry played the best game of his life — scoring 43 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to give the Warriors a 107-97 win, tying the series at 2-2. Boston never won another game.

“We had to do it the difficult way. We have to do it again. It could have been an easier road, obviously, if you get the win tonight. But we’re 2-2 now. We know we can do it. We’ve done it before,” said former Celtics coach Ime Udoka after the game. He lied.

Celtics consistently inconsistent at home

This postseason run was full of hints that the Celtics might have better luck closing out a series on the road than at home. In the first round, Boston gave an Atlanta Hawks team that’s used to pulling off postseason upsets even more confidence after Trae Young hit a game-winning deep three-pointer to win Game 5 at TD Garden, pushing the series to a sixth game in Atlanta that should have ended in five in Boston. In the next round, the Celtics dropped Game 1 to Philadelphia thanks to James Harden, and would later lose Game 5 at home giving the Sixers a 3-2 series lead. And finally, there was this last series. One in which the Celtics lost three games in Boston.

“We failed. I failed and we let the whole city down,” said Jaylen Brown, who was a pathetic 8-for-23 from the field with eight turnovers. “In spite of whatever circumstance we had this year we rose to the occasion. We got to this point and we came up short.”

According to Axios Sports, entering the 2016 NBA Finals, home teams were 101-24 in Game 7s. Since then, they’ve been 8-11. Also, seven times this postseason the lower-seeded team won a series, which is the most since 1983.

It’s a sign that matchups and health mean more than seeding. So, if you hate “load management” and think stars should play every game, there’s a strong possibility that you’re probably going to hate the new NBA. Since “ring culture” has made it so that stars are only judged by how many championships they’ve won, the regular season has become a warm-up for the playoffs. But remember, the fans and many in “the media” made it this way.

But, back to the matter at hand. Which is that the Celtics aren’t good in Boston. TD Garden isn’t “The Garden,” and Larry Bird isn’t walking through that door. Building your entire home-court advantage on racism and terrible amenities for visiting teams no longer works. Time to figure something else out, like late-game execution. 

Boston Celtics blew it and didn’t even give fans their money’s worth

Boston Celtics guard Derrick White walks to the bench after being taken out of the game in the closing minutes of the second half in Game 7.

After a dramatic finish to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7 didn’t nearly live up to the hype. But that only matters to the city of Boston. The Miami Heat stormed into Beantown, took care of business early, and completely silenced the crowd inside TD Garden by halftime. The Celtics might as well have laid down halfway through the first quarter, as it seemed they never really got started and showed little sense of urgency as they continued to chuck up bad shot after bad shot. The C’s couldn’t accomplish what the 2004 Red Sox did in digging their way out of an 0-3 hole and winning the series. Boston became the 151st NBA team to come up short.

You’d think a team who barely escaped Game 6 would come out fired up for Game 7 and leave it all on the court. But not this Boston squad. The Celtics almost looked defeated from the jump after Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on the game’s first play. That’s not an excuse; it’s an observation of how lackluster Boston’s effort felt almost immediately. It felt like a game seven early on based on the fans’ energy in the arena, but that quickly subsided when the Celtics began clanking threes as they missed their first 12 three-point attempts in this game. A team cannot often shoot that poorly to start a game and still manage to win.

No ‘A’ in effort

When Boston entered the locker room at halftime down 11 points, it felt like the end was near. Everyone expected them to make a run, and they did, but each time the home team got within striking range, the Heat hit another big shot to counter Boston’s run and extend their lead. Miami’s Caleb Martin was the culprit this night, hitting four threes, with a couple coming at crucial points in the game. Martin scored 26 points as he played sidekick to ECF MVP Jimmy Butler, who contributed 28 and led all scorers.

Boston simply failed to show up in the big moment once again. It happened last year in the NBA Finals and even at times during last year’s ECF against the Heat. The Celtics want to “out talent” every team they face, and that strategy has failed them. Forget about seeding. Based on overall talent, the Celtics have a deeper roster than the Heat, top to bottom. Not many picked Miami to come out on top of this series entering game one. Then the Heat built and lost a three-game lead in the series, and we were right back to square one.

Only someone should have reminded the Celtics that everything was on the line Monday night. History, a second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, their season, everything. As the game went on and the hole got deeper and deeper in game seven for the Celtics, you could feel the life being sucked out of TD Garden with every Butler or Martin dagger down the stretch. The camera panned through the stands to show a lot of unhappy Bostonians — including a distraught Bill Simmons — in the form of celebrities, athletes, regular fans, and former Celtic players.

There is an ‘E’ in embarrassing

Paul Pierce was shown in the fourth with a sour face on like he’d just taken down a family pack of Sour Patch Kids. Pierce had a look on his face similar to when Draymond Green clowned him when he was winding down his career in L.A. with the Clippers. That’s how sickening the Celtics’ performance was in Game 7. It gave a Celtics legend flashbacks to one of his most embarrassing moments on the court, but that wasn’t nearly as bad as the beatdown Miami put on ‘em Monday.

If the loss at home wasn’t bad enough, Boston had to watch awards named after Celtic greats Bob Cousy and Larry Bird handed to the Heat on their home court. All Celtics players, present and past, should be thoroughly disgusted. It’s one thing to lose, but to play the way the C’s did in Game 7 is unacceptable.

All good things must end

Monday night may have, in fact, been the last time we see these Celtics as currently constructed. Jaylen Brown is now due for a contract extension and can sign a five-year deal worth close to $300 million. Then Tatum will be up for his extension after next year, which could be worth nearly $320 million. Both players were named to All-NBA teams this season which makes them supermax-eligible.

Trade talk has surrounded Brown the last couple of years, so it isn’t inconceivable to think the Celtics could be moving on from the 26-year-old. It always seemed to be a matter of time before they split up the Tatum and Brown duo. They got six highly successful years out of them but failed to capture an NBA title.

After another disappointing end to the season, it might not be too far-fetched to wonder about first-year head coach Joe Mazzulla’s standing with the team either. Mazzulla replaced Ime Udoka this season, and Boston continued where they left off last year but ultimately regressed by not getting back to the NBA Finals. 

Boston Celtics got a lucky bounce — along with Game 7 and all the momentum

Boston’s Derrick White drives to the basket ahead of Bam Adebayo during the fourth quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals at Kaseya Center.

After falling behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston Celtics’ guards Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart told the media, “Don’t let us get one.” Not only did the Celtics get one, but they got a second and a third in a row to tie the series and become only the fourth team in NBA history to advance to a game seven after such a deficit. The Celtics also needed one of the luckiest bounces in NBA history to even up the series.

Watching an opponent fight their way back into a series after you’ve had them dead to rights is hard enough. But to lose game six at home, when you’ve fought back after being down nearly the entire game the way Miami did, only to have Boston win it on a last-second putback by Derrick White, is beyond heartbreaking. The Celtics did it again to the Heat after essentially promising to get back into this series. Everyone not wearing green in the arena looked like they were going to be sick after realizing White actually got the shot off in time, thus ensuring a game seven in Boston on Monday.

There’s something about Boston

Let’s be honest, the Celtics were scoffed at by nearly everyone after the “don’t let us get one” comment, which could have been seen as a nod to the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who accomplished the same feat these Celtics will attempt to complete on Monday night inside TD Garden. Kevin Millar uttered the phrase, “Let me tell ya, don’t let us win today…” ahead of game four against the New York Yankees during the American League Championship Series in ‘04. Now, nearly 20 years later, the Celtics find themselves in the same situation with a chance to become the first team in their league’s history to do what was once deemed impossible, the same way the Red Sox did in Major League Baseball.

After taking three straight games, all the Celtics need is to win another to advance to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons. The momentum has clearly shifted the Celtics’ way in this series, and so has the pressure. Miami was only favored in this series after winning the first three games. Now after dropping three straight and the Celtics forcing a seventh game, nobody expects the Heat to close out on the road. The pressure is squarely back on the shoulders of the home team, Boston. And the Heat are right back where they feel most comfortable, as the underdog.

NBA history will be made

There’s so much on the line in Monday’s game seven that this could turn into one of the greatest elimination games ever. So much history is at stake. If the Celtics win, they will become the first team in the association to complete a comeback from 0-3. They’re only the fourth to force a game seven. If the Heat win and advance to the NBA Finals, they’ll be only the second No. 8 seed to make an NBA Finals appearance. The Knicks were the first and only number eight seed to get to an NBA Finals.

The New England region might be the luckiest sports region in America after Saturday nights finish. The Patriots’ dynasty began on a gracious call during a divisional round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in Jan ‘02, now infamously known as the tuck rule game. As mentioned, the Red Sox made an improbable comeback against the Yankees in the ‘04 ALCS, and now the Celtics can match their baseball counterpart by completing the same mission. And after the way the C’s took game six in heartbreaking fashion, you can’t say the luck of the Irish isn’t on their side if they finish off the Heat in game seven.

The Miami Heat have the Boston Celtics right where they want them

Even Jaylen Brown can’t believe it.

Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals is going to decide nature vs. nurture, talent vs. culture, one and for all. Jimmy Butler has been giving the cameras a wry smile and an occasional wink since the Miami Heat lost Game 4, and even went as far as to say “We can and we will win this series.” Despite that, pundits still swear by the Boston Celtics’ pedigree.

We’ve been throwing the Heat a parade for a solid week now, and I genuinely think that knocked them off their game. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s Seal team mentality doesn’t hit the same way when his squad is frontrunning. I would say that’s why I trust that Miami will earn a trip to the NBA Finals on Monday, but I don’t trust either of these teams.

The 2023 playoffs have reflected the regular season more than we’d like to admit. It felt like a ton of teams were sandbagging — none more than Miami — November through April and biding their time until the real hooping starts. For the past month, they’ve shown us who they are, with Angela Bassett yelling “Show them who you are,” and Jimmy Buckets obliging. He did that in Game 6, too, but it wasn’t enough. At the same time, we’ve been expecting a regression to the mean from Miami, and that’s sort of what happened in Games 4, 5, and 6.

You can say it’ll be extremely difficult for the Heat to bounce back from coming .1 seconds away from the Finals. I won’t be saying that, but you can.

Beware of public perception

This Game 7 has serious “favored team gets the football pulled out from under them” vibes. That Derrick White escape was almost as improbable as the Kansas City Chiefs 13-second win over the Buffalo Bills, but if you remember, they lost the AFC Championship to the Cincinnati Bengals.

To steal another example from the NFL, how about the Minnesota Vikings edging the New Orleans Saints on a pass to Stefon Diggs with no time remaining only to get blasted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game?

So many people have said all the pressure is now on Miami that it might’ve flipped back to Boston. The finale is in Beantown, and the C’s opened up at 8-point favorites. That was the exact same line as Game 1, when Miami took over late, and Boston didn’t help its cause at all.

Nothing would make me happier than seeing Butler get some comeuppance for those team picture day dreads, and it’d be even sweeter if he was the Big Face of a 3-0 collapse.

You see, those are the exact kinds of thoughts the Heat want you thinking. 

Does Boston actually have a chance to get back in this thing?

Can the C’s pull a 2004 Red Sox?

A 16-seed beating a 1-seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was considered impossible until 2018. It happened twice in the 2023 tourney. The Boston Red Sox were a franchise for 103 years before they became the first MLB team to come back from a 3-0 deficit. Currently, NBA teams are 0-150 in playoff series when they fall in that hole. The Boston Celtics looked destined to become No. 151 until a lights-out shooting night, combined with a rash of Miami Heat turnovers kept their season alive.

Injury has also come for the Heat. Starting guard Gabe Vincent has been ruled out due to an ankle injury that he suffered in Game 4. The 3-point shot carried the Heat past the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, and has had the Celtics’ defense largely flummoxed in the Eastern Conference Finals. (The New York Knicks shot so poorly in the semifinals that threes weren’t necessary.)

The public will very likely not be given any diagnosis on Vincent’s ankle until the day of the next Heat game whether it’s Game 6 at home on Saturday, or Game 1 on June 1 in Denver. Losing a second-consecutive game though would not put an uncomfortable amount of pressure on them. Even the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls lost two in a row to the Seattle Supersonics in the Finals before cruising to a Game 6 victory.

Just because it can happen doesn’t mean it will

Mathematically the No. 2 seed Celtics do have a chance to pull off what would go down as the best, and most ironic, upset in NBA history. Realistically though, how significant of a chance do the Celtics have of preventing the only No. 8 seed in NBA history, in a non-shortened season, from making the NBA Finals?

They had better hope that the law of averages works out in their favor, and the Heat’s shooting falls back to earth. The Celtics have been awful at the 3-point line while the Heat have been damn near magical. In two of the four games the Heat have converted on greater than 50 percent of their 3-point attempts. The tides turned in Game 4 with the Heat shooting a ghastly 25 percent from three while the Celtics converted at a healthy 40 percent clip.

For all that the Celtics have done wrong in this series, if the Heat continue to shoot from three anywhere close to the way that they did during the regular season — fourth-worst in the league — they will have a golden opportunity to win Game 5 and any subsequent matchup.

As blistering as the Heat’s shooting has been in this series, only in Game 3 did it truly give the Celtics no chance at victory. In game 1 in Boston, the Heat saw a 12-point lead quickly get chopped in half in the fourth quarter. In Game 2 the Celtics held a double-digit lead twice during the final 12 minutes.

Celtics inconsistent at home

Self-inflicted errors put them in a disastrous situation — down 2-0 when hosting the first two games. Turnovers plagued the Celtics in the first game. Every time that they got the score within two possessions during the fourth quarter, they turned the ball over.

Then in Game 2, an advantage that they had over the Heat became a weakness. The Celtics have outrebounded the Heat in the Eastern Conference in all phases — total, defensive, and offensive. However, in that game, they lost control of the glass.

The Heat outrebounded the Celtics by 10 in the fourth quarter, including some backbreakers on the offensive end. With 1:20 remaining in the game the Celtics were down by three points and forced the Heat into two misses, but failed both times to secure the offensive rebound. The third time was the charm as the Heat went up by five.

With Vincent out the Celtics’ chances at winning Game 5 have significantly improved, but even if both teams were healthy they would have the better roster. They had the best net rating in the NBA during the regular season, and were the only team in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating.

Their season is on the line, but their better roster is whole — sans the hand injury that Jaylen Brown is playing through. If the Heat’s 3-point shooting percentage flattens, and the Celtics stop shooting themselves in the foot, lightning striking twice in Boston might become probable as opposed to unthinkable.

Talk about the Denver Nuggets, you cowards!

SI’s Chris Mannix is totally wrong about the Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, and I’m sincere when I say that’s not a backhanded compliment. Yet it seems as if I’m one of only a few media members who actually want to talk about the team that won the Western Conference Finals. The league and its cling-ons were hoping for a heaping helping of Los Angeles LakersBoston Celtics, and instead, they’ll have to settle for Serbian food and Nickelback.

However, this is the job. Write about the squads still standing, and hand out flowers to the players who earned them. Nikola Jokić is playing like an old-school video game boss, made impossible to beat due to finite lives, not enough quarters, and an unstoppable array of unblockable attacks. We just spent the past month and a half drooling over L.A. coming back from a horrendous start, yet Jamal Murray returning from a torn ACL and shedding the Bubble Murray moniker isn’t compelling because he’s not in purple and gold?

It’s easy to rattle off players and say, “They’re not interesting.” I could just as easily do it with media personalities who claim banality as an excuse for not wanting to talk about Denver. The Nuggets have a two-time MVP and a group of guys who’ve also persevered through injuries. In addition to Murray’s road to recovery, Michael Porter Jr. only appeared in nine games last year, and has had to overcome back problems since the draft.

I understand that LeBron James and Anthony Davis do more traffic, and are easier to discuss because all we ever do is talk about L.A. They don’t matter at the moment because they were summarily swept by a far superior team. We have all offseason to debate LeBron’s future, so that can be shelved for now — and in general.

Blame ringzzz culture, sports media, social media, everyone

Chris Mannix isn’t the only reporter who wants to clock in and go through the motions. If sports media painted houses, every home would be a hue of beige. It’s the same storylines over and over again, and the only way to enter the conversation is to win a ring, or say some wild shit.

If a ring is the only currency that earns a player media attention, then why has Damian Lillard been in the news even though Portland was eliminated from playoff contention in March?

We literally just shouted about Jokić and the MVP race for months, but a lot of people were on the Joel Embiid bandwagon, and offering a mea culpa would be career suicide because it would compromise a take, your integrity? I’m still not sure. I caped for Embiid, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even after getting slandered for months because he was the white face of the MVP debate, Jokić derided those who’ve been “mean” to Embiid, and said the Cameroonian wasn’t deserving of the award after the 76er’s second-round exit. That’s essentially the reception Jokić got after last postseason, and the media wonders why he has no interest in participating in their dog and pony show.

There are gobs of angles to cover with this Nuggets team, and I will not entertain excuses to talk about the fucking Lakers. All of the alleged reasons to ignore Denver have nothing to do with basketball, yet that’s what we’re supposed to be covering.

So kindly, do your job, and then go back to rehashing the same mundane, boring talking points on NBA Twitter. 

If D’Angelo Russell can be ‘better’ than your starting point guard and shooting guard, then why isn’t he?

Image for article titled If D'Angelo Russell can be 'better' than your starting point guard and shooting guard, then why isn't he?

After a playoff series that highlighted why a 27-year-old former No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick could be playing for his fifth franchise next season, like clockwork, D’Angelo Russell couldn’t help himself and did something dumb.

“I’m nice. I know who I am as a player. … I can be better than your point guard. I can be better than your shooting guard,” he told Jovan Buha of The Athletic, about his game entering this offseason.

Confidence is a necessity. Conceit is needless.

When the Denver Nuggets swept the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals earlier this week, it sent Denver to a place they’ve never been before — the NBA Finals — and Los Angeles back to the drawing board. And one of the first things that Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka has to do is figure out what he’s going to do with Russell, who is an unrestricted free agent.

During the conference finals, Russell only scored a total of 25 points. He came off the bench in Game 4 and finished his season with four points, two rebounds, and two assists on a night in which he only played 15 minutes and was 2-of-4 from the field. After multiple games throughout the series, Russell went back to the court to get up some postgame shots — it didn’t translate.

Despite his cold shooting in the series, the meaningless shots he took after games, that asinine quote he gave about his abilities, and how bad he was on defense, what’s so bothersome about all of this is that it seems like he hasn’t learned from his past.

Russell secretly filmed Nick Young during his first Lakers stint

Russell’s first stint with the Lakers was cut short after he broke the ultimate locker room code of conduct when he secretly filmed former teammate Nick Young discussing his dealings with other women when he was in a very public relationship with rapper Iggy Azalea at the time.

“D’Angelo, great guard, but had a problem when (Young) and the whole thing went down, so we had to get him out of there,” said Magic Johnson during his time as the Lakers team president.

The Lakers sent Russell to Brooklyn for a fresh start. But before he could even play a game he was running his mouth — again — as he snitched on a teammate during his introductory press conference. “The workout was last night. Caris (LeVert) was supposed to be there, but he wasn’t” said Russell as he blasted his new teammate for no reason.

To some, the comments were overblown and weren’t a big deal. But, six years later, they’re proof that he has a history of not understanding when to keep his mouth closed — whether it be about the personal lives of his teammates, their whereabouts for offseason workouts, or his unrealistic beliefs about his role in the NBA.

D’Angelo Russell is a former All-Star who can help out many teams in the NBA next season — maybe even the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s just been interesting that he hasn’t quite figured out that he could help himself by playing better and talking less.

LeBron James isn’t retiring

He’ll be back

Going to get this in writing real quick just so I can do the sports media thing in a couple of months and say I told you so: LeBron James isn’t retiring. The guy had 40, 10, and 9 in a closeout game, and the Los Angeles Lakers were a second scorer away from the NBA Finals. This is simply a little motivation for the front office to pour a little more dark magic, and a lot more money, into the trade machine. I don’t know who Rob Pelinka will blackmail to do it, but he’ll land someone, and Stephen A. Smith will melt on the set of First Take.

Will LeBron James actually retire? | Agree to Disagree
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Will LeBron James actually retire? | Agree to Disagree

LeBron’s entire marketing campaign this year was him versus Father Time. At one point in Game 4 Jamal Murray got him on a switch, and James locked him the fuck up. We all know he can still play, and he’s going to keep playing because Michael Jordan and his fans have given James an inferiority complex.

LeBron says jump, and ESPN says ‘Woof, woof’

The only reason I’m writing this is because I know it will do traffic, and that’s the only thing that matters to advertisers. Oh, piece of Lakers content. Oh, piece of LeBron content. Oh, piece of “He said retirement?” content.

This is the first time that I can remember James publicly mulling retirement, and he’s been a member of the AARP for long enough to justify whatever you think this is. Whether it’s a petty plea for attention, or legit, I don’t really care because I stopped letting things like this bother me. Carmelo Anthony just called it a career, Chirs Paul is in the process of embalming, and LeBron has to be pondering how ornate he wants his sarcophagus. (My guess is Pyramid of Giza, which is why he’s not retiring.)

Everyone can control how they react, and if you want to question reality, grovel, pontificate, debate, etc. feel free. I’m not going to do that because Bronny is a year away from being an undrafted free agent, and the Lakers were just in the Western Conference Finals. Anthony Davis was playing so well that I was three seconds from jumping headfirst into Big Sur.

Honestly, I don’t even think I’ll get much credit for being right on this. It’s more of a non-story than the couple of instances where Aaron Rodgers teased life after relevance.

So consume all of the Lakers/LeBron/what’s next podcasts that you’d like. It’s a free country for another 18 months, and if you want to spend the last precious moments of unregulated American air begging the King to continue his reign, you won’t be the only one. 

Carmelo Anthony and the top retired NBA players never to win a ring

Carmelo Anthony retired with accolades, but no championship

With Carmelo Anthony’s retirement announcement this week, we thought it’d be fun to look at some of the greatest retired NBA players to never win a ring. It’s a discussion that’s often had, and now Anthony is officially a club member. Besides never winning the ultimate prize, one other thing each of these players has in common is being part of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team. So, all these players are considered all-time greats regardless of title status.

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Melo announced his retirement earlier this week and left the game as the NBA’s ninth-leading scorer. Anthony was never seen as the best player in the NBA, having played during the LeBron James era, but he was the Association’s most prolific scoring threat at one point and even won a scoring title in 2013 to prove that claim. He never made it to the NBA Finals but led Denver to the Western Conference Finals in ’09, where they lost in six games.

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Charles Barkley is more known for being a talking head at this point than he is for having a stellar NBA career. Barkley’s prime was 30 years ago, but he’s still one of the greatest players to step on an NBA court to not win a championship. Only 39 players in league history have averaged over 22 points per game for their career, and Barkley is one of them at 22.14 ppg. Sir Charles had an 11-year stretch where he never dipped under 20 ppg, and that might not sound like much in today’s era, but he played in an era where teams weren’t averaging 120 ppg in the 1990s.

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The Answer has been called the best little man in the game, and while Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons bad boy) might dispute that, there’s no question Iverson had the most heart of any player during his time in the NBA. Iverson was a four-time scoring champ, three-time steals leader, 11-time All-Star, and the ’96-97 Rookie of the Year. Plus, he was the ’00-01 MVP and a Hall of Famer.

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Here we have one of the few back-to-back MVP winners in NBA history. Nash never seems to get the respect he deserves which is fitting as he barely got it when he played. He’s one of the best pure point guards the Association has ever produced, but Nash was also a phenomenal shooter as he shot just under 43 percent from three-point range over his career. Nash’s coaching career may have fizzled quickly, but he’ll forever be known as one of the most outstanding point guards ever.

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He is one of the forgotten stars of a past era who never seems to get the respect he deserves. Elgin Baylor was the Rookie of the Year in ’58-59 and won the All-Star game MVP that same season. He retired in ’72 and still has the third-highest ppg average in NBA history at 27.2. Today we hear the term “he’s a bucket” thrown around like rice at a wedding, but Baylor really was that. Baylor could score with the best of ‘em but wasn’t quite able to capture a championship despite playing for the Lakers his entire career in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

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Miller Time was always thrilling, and Reggie did his best to lead the Indiana Pacers for 18 years. While only making one NBA Finals appearance, the Pacers were perennial contenders in the eastern conference while Miller played. But, like many others, he continually ran into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But Reggie’s legacy was built on memorable moments, not accolades. Like the night he scored eight points in nine seconds against the New York Knicks in the ’95 playoffs. That’s legendary stuff right there.

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Big Pat Ewing was one of the most skilled centers of the 90s but could never capture that elusive NBA title. Despite that, he’s one of the more loved figures of 90s NBA hoops and had a Hall of Fame career. In the deepest era of big men the NBA has ever seen, Ewing was among the best and always had the Knicks in the mix in the east. Like others on this list, he just happened to play in the same era as Jordan.

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Another star of the 90s who was foiled by Jordan not once but twice in the NBA Finals, Malone is still considered one of the best power forwards to ever play the game despite never winning a title. Malone was a 14-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, two-time MVP, Hall of Famer, and part of the 75th-anniversary team. He’s also third on the all-time scorer’s list and was second for many years before LeBron James passed him.

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Stockton is seen as a bit out there these days but is known as the assist king around the NBA. Stockton was part of one of the greatest, most lethal duos in NBA history while playing in Utah with Karl Malone. He dropped so many dimes that the second-leading assist guy in league history (Jason Kidd) is more than 3,700 assists behind. The closest active player, Chris Paul, is in third place on the all-time list but trails Kidd by nearly 600 as his career winds down. The way basketball has evolved, Stockton may hold that crown for a few more decades.

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They called him the human highlight reel. Anytime you watch a player with that type of nickname, you know you’ll be entertained, at the least. Nique was a nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA player. Wilkins is considered one of the top three, if not the best, NBA dunkers of all time. He was never able to reach the NBA Finals but made a significant impact in helping shape the Association in the 80s and 90s.