High Points: Summer hoops

Paul E. Anna
High Points
Guest Commentary
The Aspen Times

It has never happened before.

For the first time in 47 years, our home-state NBA team has games to play in the month of June.

The Denver Nuggets have gone where they never have been before: to the Finals of the National Basketball Association to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which is awarded to the league champion. It has been a long time coming, but go Nuggets!

As of this writing, I don’t know whether the Nuggets or their opponents, the Miami Heat, won last night’s opening game played at Ball Arena in Denver (Though, I planned to watch it at the J-bar), but I do know that, at the very least, we will have games to watch this Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday — in the event of a sweep by either team — and as late as June 18 if the series were to go seven games. I would bet on the latter.

This has always been a Broncos’ town, with the Avalanche stirring passions when they have made runs in the NHL. But now, with their recent success — especially their sweep in four games of the Los Angeles Lakers and superstar LeBron James to move to the Finals — local folks are starting to take a little pride in a Nuggets’ squad favored to win the championship.

It should be noted that the team is owned by Stan Kroenke, who in addition to owning the Los Angeles Rams (who won the Lombardi Trophy in 2022) and the Colorado Avalanche (who won the Stanley Cup  in 2022), also has some significant real estate here in the Roaring Fork Valley, including a home on Red Mountain and the Willits home of Whole Foods. He seems to know what he is doing.

The Nuggets are a fun team to root for and have, under Head Coach Michael Malone, followed a proven path to make the Finals. They have been in first place in the Western Division since December and have a 12-3 record in the playoffs, coming to the Finals having won a series versus the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-1) and the Phoenix Suns (4-2) before vanquishing the Lakers.

Unlike many teams in the NBA, there is little drama as the culture of the team is based on teamwork, comraderie, and unselfish play. They have a pair of superstars in two-time league Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokić (He should have won a third this year) and shooting sensation Jamal Murray. Interestingly, Jokić is Serbian, and Murray was raised just outside Toronto, Canada. They also rely on contributions from a number of others, including Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (aka KCP), and Eric Gordon, who all have made big plays this playoff season.

The opposition has had a Cinderella-like run, having begun the playoffs as the eighth seed in the East. They beat Boston in a Game Seven on Monday night to make it to the Finals. Led by Jimmy Butler, they are also expecting the return of Tyler Herro, one of their best players who has missed the last 16 games after breaking his right hand in the first game of the playoffs. He averaged 20 points a game this season and should be a big addition to a formidable foe for the Nuggets. As Tina once sang, “We don’t need another hero.”

So, who is going to win? The stat I’m looking at is 5,280 to 3. Those numbers are the respective elevations of the arenas that will host the Finals. It says right on the floor in Ball Arena, the Nuggets’ home, that the court sits at 5,280 feet. And while the elevation of the Heat’s home, Kaseya Center, is not embossed on the floor, it is listed as 3 feet above sea level.

I think the Nuggets, who own the home-court advantage, will win the series in seven games playing at a mile high. And Stan Kroenke will add an O’Brien to his ever-growing and impressive collection of trophies.

It has never happened before.

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