The wait won’t be the hardest part, it’s just like for the Denver Nuggets, which advanced to the first NBA Finals in franchise history on Monday.
Now is a nine-day pause before the start of the title chase on June 1 against the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat, who are leading 3-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Well, I’m trying to figure out where I’m going,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said humorously when asked about the upcoming break. “I could go to Cabo for a few days, have a margarita on the beach. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yes, we will spend (Tuesday) resting.
The Nuggets racked up a series of wins over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals and 12-3 in the first three rounds of the knockout stages. Overcoming the Lakers wasn’t as easy as imagined with every game being tight, including Monday’s one.
The Nuggets took a 15-point lead after halftime as they watched Lakers star LeBron James score 21 points in the first half and 31 points in the first half. It was the pinnacle of James’ playing career for any given round.
Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was more overrated in his approach, finishing with his third double in the series, fourth in the last five playoffs and eighth in this season’s playoffs. Eight is an NBA record, surpassing seven doubles three times in the playoffs Wilt Chamberlain had for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967.
“I think I’m really happy for the boys and for the organization and the way we fought through,” said Jokic, who scored 30 points with 14 rebounds and 13 assists. “I remember the days when no one was in our (building). You can hear the ball bouncing on the floor and there are no fans. And (now) we sell out every night.
“Just because of the organization, just because of the people, just because of the coach (Malone), because of all the players that people doubt. I think I’m happy and that means a lot to me for the team we have.”
Jamal Murray has 25 points for the Nuggets, while Aaron Gordon has 22. The break will be rewarding for Murray, who is returning from an ACL injury absence last season.
“I had some ups and downs during the season, some painful days when I couldn’t play, and those days were terrible,” Murray said. “My first back-to-back match in January or something like that. It is just trend (forward). Each month, I feel like my knee is getting better, firmer, and more stable the way it should feel. Just to be here and play so many minutes like this at this point – we’ve prepared for this.”
If the Heat beat the Celtics on Tuesday, it would be the first time in NBA history that both conference finals end in a draw, but it would also create an extended recess for both two teams.
The point for Nuggets is to continue the momentum that has brought them so far. If they face Heat, the series will open in Denver; if they play with the Celtics, the series will start.
“To get the first Western Conference championship in franchise history, that means a lot,” Malone said. “But I say for the 17 players in that dressing room and the whole organization: We are not satisfied. We’ll enjoy it for a while… but we still have a lot of work to do.”
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