The Miami Heat have made it this far by their "Heat culture." They gritted their way as underdogs with no homecourt advantage at any stage. If you look at Jimmy Butler, he is grit personified–tough, hardworking, intense, unafraid.
The Denver Nuggets have made it this far by their altitude. Not just their geographical location, with Ball Arena literally a mile high above sea level, thus giving out 17% less oxygen than other venues (like Miami's Koseya Center a mere 7 feet above sea level),
Side note: That's scientific, not an urban legend. The difference in barometric pressure in Denver compared to Miami means you're getting less oxygen to your working muscles.
Opposing teams never admit it, and they have played in Denver before, but the Nuggets are undefeated at home here in the playoffs. They actually lost just three games the entire postseason.
The Nuggets' "altitude" refers to their dominance, as represented by Nikola Jokic. He's big, dominant, smart, well aware of his superiority.
I was puzzled how ESPN analytics gave the Heat a bigger percentage to win over the Nuggets than they had against the Boston Celtics (11% vs 3%). The Nuggets are clearly the more complete, superior team. Nonetheless, they keep dismissing the Miami Heat and they've looked like fools the whole time.
Side note: ESPN in general is biased towards the Boston Celtics and have continuously overrated them.
Pummeling Into Submission
The Nuggets are simply the best team in the NBA now, and they have, for me, the best player in the world now. This is why I celebrated the Los Angeles Lakers win against the Golden State Warriors in the Conference semifinals. It's a great achievement considering what we Laker fans went through this season, but with Denver, that was the end.
Even LeBron James knew it. After 20 seasons, with all the wear and tear, he has a feel of which fight is still worth fighting for. Yes, he will be criticized for it. Yes, it makes him "un Kobe-like." It makes him pragmatic, which others will see as cowardice.
I saw James' body language in WCF Game 1, when the Nuggets got a crucial steal on James that sealed the game. James just shrugged and gave up. He knew that the run ends here, and he was right.
Will we see that kind of surrender with Jimmy Butler? Likely not. The image I remember is during the bubble series against the Lakers in 2020, where he gave it his all and fell short. No hint of surrender, he'll leave it all on the court.
The Nuggets may carve out that image again. LeBron and Jimmy will have different ways to show submission, and Nikola Jokic will pummel them both. But this won't be a sweep. Butler is not pragmatic, and this is why fans love him. In the same way they love the Heat.
The post-LeBron Heat was a trainwreck. That team should've been tanking, but they tried to make the playoffs every season, even when they had every excuse.
Heart Vs. Mind
When asked for my prediction, I answered: My heart wants Miami, but my mind says Denver. Who would not love this Heat crew? Butler should be the new face of playoff basketball, bar none. He competes, and it rubs off on his team. They deserve to be the Cinderella team this season.
But there is only one champion, and it's time for the Nuggets. Michael Porter Jr, Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were all seen as underachieving, highly-rated players. They finally live up to their hype, at the right time when Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, perhaps the best guard-center combo in basketball today, are both healthy and ready.
It's the Nuggets' time, and they won't be denied.
Side note: There are great guard/perimeter player - center/inside player combos. Butler and Bam Adebayo are awesome as well, but still a shade below Murray and Jokic. Adebayo is a revelation, and should be respected as one of the best bigs. Murray's performance in Game 1 seals their invincibility, and if he were more consistent, he'd be a top 5 point guard.2023-06-04T16:52:55Z dg43tfdfdgfd