Jamal Murray‘s return from an ACL tear turned the Nuggets into serious title contenders, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic. Coach Michael Malone points to a December 8 game against Portland when Murray sank a game-winning shot and ran off the court in celebration.
“That was the night that we were reminded of Jamal’s greatness,” Malone said. “It was also a jump-start for us as a team. We started playing really well after that night.”
Denver pulled away from the field and spent more than 100 days as the top team in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are 6-0 at home in the playoffs and have posted convincing series wins against Minnesota and Phoenix on their way to the conference finals.
Jones sees a similarity to the Spurs teams of last decade and suggests that the combination of Nikola Jokic and Murray evoke memories of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
“We understand how much talent we have on the roster, and I think this team has proven that it can beat anybody,” Malone said. “I think with the two-time MVP, this team has worked very hard to get to this point. This is not luck or happenstance. We’re healthy, which is important. But we’re a very good basketball team.”
There’s more from Denver:
- The offseason addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was acquired in a trade with the Wizards, brought some championship experience to the roster. Malone emphasized the need for poise prior to Thursday’s closeout win in Game 6, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post, and Caldwell-Pope responded with 17 points in the first quarter. The veteran guard sees an atmosphere similar to the Lakers’ title team he was part of in 2020. “Just being around these guys every day — practice, shootaround — I can just see it in them,” Caldwell-Pope said. “The confidence is there.”
- Suns star Kevin Durant was impressed after watching the series-long performance from Jokic, who had three triple-doubles in the six games, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. “Jokic is an all-time great,” Durant said. “He’s going to go down as one of the all-time great centers to ever touch a basketball.”
- ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson has apologized for leaving Jokic off the top five on his MVP ballot, relays Cydney Henderson of USA Today. Jokic was first, second or third on 99 of the 100 ballots, but didn’t crack Jackson’s top five. “Made an honest mistake with my MVP votes,” Jackson tweeted. “My apologies to the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic. He’s not only a legitimate MVP candidate who deserved my vote, but he is truly one of the all time greats!”