Fox Sports NBA Writer
In the NBA bubble, the Miami Heat coaching staff often clashed with the Denver Nuggets coaches while fishing in the lake.
They always took the time to acknowledge each other because they felt a certain kinship.
“Competitors recognize competitors,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday at NBA Finals Media Day.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like the Heat and Nuggets have much in common.
The Heat is sloppy and defensive. The Nuggets are an offensive powerhouse. The Heat are the second 8-seed in NBA history to reach the Finals. Nuggets is the best seed in the West.
But as they prepare to go head-to-head in the championship round, their similarities are truly striking.
“In some ways it’s a mirror image series,” Spoelstra said. “Not in style – but teams that have probably been overlooked, underestimated, have built up a chip on their shoulder.”
The Heat shocked the league while still in this position.
Here’s a quick recap of how they got here: They lost their first play-in game in Atlanta, and in their second play-in game against Chicago, they fell behind by six points in the fourth quarter and stormed back. came back to do. the road to post-season.
In the first round of the playoffs, they lost rotation players Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo to injuries, but still defeated the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games. Then, after sweeping the New York Knicks in six games, Miami took a 3–0 series lead against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and allowed the Celtics to win three games in a row.
The Heat were then underdogs in Game 7 in Boston, but won by a blowout.
Denver also shocked the league by being in this position – but in the Nuggets’ case, their frustration lies in the fact that the blow happened.
The Nuggets had the best record in the West (53–29), yet the conference was widely considered to be in the playoffs. In their second round matchup against the Phoenix Suns, the Nuggets were considered -140 underdogs by DraftKings. And even after the Nuggets defeated the Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, much of the talk afterward was about the Lakers finding a way to put the brakes on Nikola Jokic, with the Nuggets three wins away from their first NBA Finals appearance. appearance in the franchise’s history instead.
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Both the teams have felt neglected throughout the season. The heat has made its way onto the seemingly impossible slopes. And the Nuggets were up the ramp, screaming for attention.
Also, both teams have superstars who were never expected to become superstars.
Jokic was drafted by the Nuggets in 2014 as the 41st overall pick. Jimmy Butler was selected 30th overall by Chicago in 2011.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone recently said that Jokic had lost 300 pounds in his first Summer League season in Vegas, adding that “no one” could see him turning into a two-time MVP. Meanwhile, Heat small forward Caleb Martin, who was not drafted again in 2019, said Wednesday that it gives you hope to turn Butler into a six-time All-Star.
Now both compete for their first ring.
Both organizations have also shown great faith in their coaches and players. Malone and Spoelstra are two of only four coaches to have spent at least the last eight years with their teams.
Relying on seven unused players after this season, the Heat showed a belief in people that many other teams had overlooked or dismissed.
And the Nuggets showed faith in Jamal Murray after he suffered a torn ACL in 2021, allowing him to take all the time he needed to bounce back. Malone also acknowledged on Wednesday that the team had a glimmer of hope that he could play the last game of the post-season, but realized he was not ready.
“We weren’t going to push him,” Malone said.
This is something Murray greatly appreciated, increasing his confidence in the organization.
Nuggets heavily backed to win 2023 NBA Finals over Jimmy Butler, Heat
But above all, the players of both the teams really love each other. On the Nuggets, Jokic is a pass-first guy who wouldn’t even call himself the best player on his team.
“Sometimes I am,” he said. “Sometimes I’m not.”
And on the Heat, Butler said that they have gone through all the adversity this season because their faith in each other is so strong.
“We might be down, people might think we’re gone, and all of a sudden we’re back in this thing,” Butler said. “And that’s because we do the same things every day. We love being around each other. We want to see each other succeed.”
So even though the Heat and the Nuggets look very different on paper, these two teams understand each other. They may have taken wildly different paths to reach this moment, but both paths led the way.
Simply put, Murray believes their greatest similarities far outweigh their differences.
“I think the two remaining teams have the most chemistry between themselves,” Murray said.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for Fox Sports. She previously covered competition for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow him on Twitter @melissaroulin,
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