DENVER (AP) — Everything from the history books to the way they’ve played through most of the postseason suggests the Denver Nuggets are on the verge of capturing their first NBA title in 47 years in the league.

The goal now for Denver is to not let up against the Miami Heat on Monday in what will be the first title-clinching opportunity in franchise history.

“My biggest concern going into any close-out game is human nature and fighting against that,” coach Michael Malone said Sunday after practice. “Most teams, when you’re up 3-1, they come up for air.”

Malone’s mission to keep the Nuggets thinking about hoops, not that trophy, could be helped by the fact that Miami’s only win in this series came a week ago in Denver. Also, the Heat have won seven road games during the postseason and are 2-0 when they’ve faced elimination — against Chicago in the play-in tournament and at Boston in Game 7 of the conference finals.

When the teams left Denver a week ago, the series was tied at 1 and Malone was grilling the Nuggets over effort after a 111-108 loss. Now that it’s 3-1, after two double-digit wins in Miami, it’s clear Nikola Jokic and Co., received the message.

On Sunday, the coach tapped into his own team’s recent history — the Nuggets overcame 3-1 deficits twice to win two series in the bubble in 2020 — to emphasize that this series isn’t over yet.

“We’ve been down 3-1. We’ve come back and won. We know anything is possible,” Malone said.

Nobody needed to convince the Heat of that.

Coach Erik Spoelstra called his team “a very stubborn and defiant group.” And when asked about the confidence the Heat players had in each other, even after putting themselves in what has historically been a near-impossible situation, Jimmy Butler said: “At an all-time high.”

Only one of 36 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in the history of the finals has come back to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. That was the 2016 Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, who trailed Golden State 3-1 before running off three straight, including the finale in Oakland in a game that goes down as one of the best in finals history.

The 1993 Suns and 1998 Jazz were down 3-1 and both managed to win Game 5 in Chicago. In both instances, Michael Jordan and the Bulls wrapped up the series in Game 6s on the road.

Among the few hints revealed about Xs and Os during these day-before news conferences was the effectiveness of Denver’s improving D around the 3-point line. Malone tore into his team after Miami made 17 3-pointers in Game 2, many of them unguarded after the Heat exploited confusion in the Nuggets’ switching defense.

Miami made 11 3s in Game 3 (when the Nuggets got triple-doubles from both Jokic and Jamal Murray) then only eight in Game 4 (when Aaron Gordon showed off the team’s depth by leading the team with 27 points).

“You have to have an aggressive mindset to be an effective defensive team,” Malone said. “But if you don’t have communication and discipline to go along with that, I think you’re going to be missing some really key components.”

Spoelstra said Denver’s shift in defense — having players fight through picks instead of switching on the perimeter — did, in fact, make a difference. Still, he insisted, it’s nothing Miami hasn’t seen a hundred times by now.

“That’s what the deal is,” Spoelstra said. “They are trying to take away certain things. We are trying to get to certain things. (It’s about) how can you get to it and how can you get to it on your terms.”

Spoelstra offered no clues regarding the recurring mystery in this series — whether 20-point-a-game scorer Tyler Herro might be returning from a broken hand.

“No new update,” Spoelstra said. “He’s doing another contact workout today. I probably won’t have anything for you tomorrow morning.”

Even with all their focus on unfinished business on the court, the Nuggets front office spent the weekend looking toward the future. ESPN reported an under-the-radar trade involving draft picks, in which Denver gave up a protected 2029 first-rounder in exchange for one of Oklahoma City’s first-rounders in 2024.

It was a subtle acknowledgment that the Nuggets, with Jokic, Murray, Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., all signed to big contracts, are looking at adding affordable talent sooner rather than later in an effort to keep their current championship window open.

Never in their history — which dates back to the founding of the ABA in 1967, then their move to the NBA nine years after that — has anyone on the Nuggets been caught thinking about multiple titles, let alone one.

“It’s just nice to see us be a big family and understand what it takes to win,” Murray said. “But yeah, it’s been a journey, a lot of fun. We have got more work to do.”


DENVER (AP) — The Miami Heat are searching for inspiration anywhere they can find it, including a tennis great’s record-setting win at the French Open and even their mascot’s quick rebound from a few punches to the face.

Jimmy Butler and the Heat might be down 3-1 in the NBA Finals against the Nuggets heading into Game 5 on Monday night in Denver, but they hardly consider themselves out.

“(Our belief) is at an all-time high,” said Butler, whose team is hoping to avoid watching the Nuggets celebrate their first NBA title. “It always has been all year. It always will be.”

From Day 1, the Heat have demonstrated their scrappiness. At first, it was in scrimmages against each other in training camp and later in earning the No. 8 seed into the postseason through a second chance in the play-in tournament. They knocked out Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee in the first round, then the New York Knicks, and rebounded in Game 7 in Boston after squandering 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Bottom line: They’re used to doing things the hard way.

“They love the ultimate challenges and the ultimate competition,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The narratives are not going to decide it. Whatever the analytics are about 3-1, that ain’t going to decide it. It’s going to be decided between those four lines, whose game can get to whose game and ultimately win at the end. That’s what our guys love.”

A little motivation goes a long way, too. They drew encouragement from Serbian great Novak Djokovic earning his men’s-record 23rd Grand Slam singles championship Sunday with a victory over Casper Ruud.

The Heat are trying to channel the inner belief Djokovic displayed as they face another Serbian standout in Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic.

“(Djokovic) has talked about that mental side of the game,” said Spoelstra, who had no update on the availability of Tyler Herro, the sharpshooting guard sidelined by a hand injury. “We have a very stubborn and defiant group, and I think it’s good to have a little bit of defiance from time-to-time.”

For tenacity, the Heat don’t need to look any farther than their mascot, Burnie, who took two punches from former UFC champion Conor McGregor in a skit that led to the person in the costume seeking medical attention. Burnie could be back on the court, though, should the Heat force a Game 6 in Miami on Thursday.

“That’s the Miami Heat toughness that we’re talking about,” Spoesltra said of the mascot’s return. “He should have been allowed to take the first swing. We won’t reveal who that is, but yeah, he can take a punch and get back up.”

The Nuggets have the Heat down on the canvas, with no desire to let them back up. Still, they realize it won’t be easy.

Closeout games rarely are.

“Obviously, they’ve been doubted the whole year and they made it this far for a reason,” said Nuggets guard/forward Bruce Brown, whose team is 9-1 at home, with the lone blemish in Game 2 against Miami. “It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be loud. The fans are going to be here probably early. But I can’t wait. I feed off their energy, so hopefully it’s going to be a big night.”

The Nuggets have history on their side. Of the 36 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in the NBA Finals, the lone one to come back to win the title was the 2016 Cleveland team led by LeBron James against Golden State.

On that Cavaliers squad was Kevin Love, the 34-year-old Heat forward who’s been preaching that anything can happen.

“You really just have to take it one possession at a time,” Love said. “It’s just one possession, one quarter, half-to-half. Just get it done by any means necessary and figure the rest out.”

Butler couldn’t agree more. Just don’t mention moral victories and how much they’ve accomplished.

It’s ring or bust.

“All the odds, 8-seed — nah, none of that matters,” Butler said. “It’s just two really good basketball teams. One has to get one win, and one has to get three. Let’s just hope that the other that has to get three, gets three.”


Kevin Love missed Miami’s team flight to Denver for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. He had the best possible excuse.

Love and his wife, Kate Bock, became parents on Saturday. Love flew to Denver on his own, arriving in time for the team’s film session and media responsibilities on Sunday.

Game 5 is Monday, with the Nuggets leading the Heat 3-1 in the series. Love plans to play.

“Definitely need to get some rest now, get some sleep,” Love said in Denver during the media session Sunday afternoon. “Everybody’s happy and healthy.”

The Heat will try to become the second team in history to successfully rally from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. The other was the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers — a team that Love also played for.


Even in this era of more scoring — the 114.7 points per game average by teams in the regular season was the highest in the NBA in 53 years — make no mistake: Defense still wins.

Especially in the NBA Finals.

Miami is 0-3 in these finals when scoring fewer than 100 points, continuing a trend. Teams that haven’t scored at least 100 points have now lost 14 consecutive games in the NBA Finals, including all four losses for Boston against Golden State last season.

The last team to score fewer than 100 and win a finals game was Cleveland, which beat Golden State 93-89 in Game 7 of the 2016 finals.


No player has ever led the NBA in total points, rebounds and assists in the same postseason.

Denver’s Nikola Jokic might be the first. That is, unless Miami’s Jimmy Butler outscores him by a mere two points throughout the rest of these NBA Finals.

Jokic has NBA-highs of 572 points, 253 rebounds and 186 assists in these playoffs. The total rebound lead is pretty much clinched; Miami’s Bam Adebayo is 38 rebounds behind Jokic. Same goes for the total assist lead; Nuggets teammate Jamal Murray is 52 behind Jokic.

But the points race is very much up for grabs. Butler has 571 points so far in the playoffs, just one back of Jokic. It should be noted that Butler’s scoring total doesn’t include 52 points from the play-in games; the NBA does not include those in official “postseason” totals.


If he plays in Game 5 — and there’s no reason to think that he won’t — Miami’s Max Strus will be appearing in his 105th game of the season.

It’s been a long time since a player got into that many contests.

The last season in which somebody appeared in 105 games was 2009-10, when five members of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics — Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar for the Lakers, Rajon Rondo for the Celtics — all played in that many contests.

If the Heat-Nuggets series goes to Game 6 and Strus plays, he’ll be the first to appear in 106 games since Boston’s Paul Pierce in 2007-08.

And if this title series goes the distance and Strus gets to 107 games played, he’ll be the first to do that since Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince in 2004-05. Prince didn’t miss a single game that season; Strus has missed two games this season.

Game 5 will be a milestone game for Denver’s Bruce Brown and Miami’s Bam Adebayo as well. Both are set to play in their 100th game of the season.

The only other player who reached 100 games this year was Boston’s Derrick White, who got into 102.


Game 5 will be Miami’s 107th game of the season, tying for the second-most in NBA history.

Boston played a record 108 games in 2007-08. New York played 107 games in 1993-94, and Detroit also played 107 in 2004-05.

Miami’s total is aided a bit by the two play-in games that the Heat had to endure just to get into the postseason. The previous franchise record for most games played in a season was 105, done during Heat championship years of 2005-06 and 2012-13.

Game 5 will be Denver’s 102nd game of the season, tying Boston for the second-most in the league.


Miami’s Jimmy Butler, on being down 3-1: “We didn’t come this far to stop playing now. No matter what the odds are, the analytics, when we get out there we’ve just got to compete. We’ve got to win one, and then we’ve got to win another one, and then we’ve got to win another one.”

Denver’s Nikola Jokic, on Toronto hiring fellow Serbian Darko Rajakovic as coach: “I think it’s a lot of respect for him and his work. I think he deserves it. He’s seen a lot, he’s been through a lot, and I think he deserves it. He’s going to do a great job there.”


— Denver is one point from tying its franchise record for most points in a season, including playoffs. The 1984-85 Nuggets scored 11,671; this Nuggets team has 11,670. (Miami has already broken its franchise record for points in a season. The Heat are up to 11,587 entering Game 5.)

— The league’s 30 teams are shooting a combined 78.3% from the foul line this season, including all games. It will be an NBA record, topping the 77.8% rate from two seasons ago. That 0.5% margin might not look like much, but the Heat and Nuggets would have to shoot a combined 0-for-344 from the line to fall below the record pace.

— A good omen for Miami: Road teams are 11-5 all-time in NBA Finals games played on June 12.

— A good omen for Denver: The Heat are 0-3 all-time in NBA Finals games played on June 12.


DENVER (AP) — Even back when Jamal Murray was racking up 50-point games in the NBA bubble, Denver coach Michael Malone marveled as much over his Canadian point guard’s pinpoint passes as his magnificent moves and fadeaway baskets.

“Well, I’ve long said that Jamal is not just a scorer,” declared Malone, who early on even had to convince Murray himself. “That’s been my challenge to him.”

Murray averaged 3.4 assists in his first season as Denver’s starting point guard in 2017-18. That number jumped to 4.8 the next season and stayed there for two more years.

After missing the 2021-22 season while recovering from knee surgery, Murray averaged a career-high 6.2 assists in his return to the lineup this season.

That number has climbed to 7.1 in the playoffs, thanks to the 10, 10, 10 and 12 assists Murray has posted against the Heat in becoming the first player in history to reach double-digit assist totals in each of his first four games in the NBA Finals.

Murray’s whopping 42 assists are one more than Nikola Jokic has in this series, which Denver leads 3-1 and can close out Monday night at Ball Arena, securing the first championship in franchise history.

Just as impressive as Murray’s dozen assists in Game 4 were his zero turnovers against Miami’s relentless double-team pressure.

“That’s a point god right there,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “Twelve assists, no turnovers, not forcing, hitting big shots, timely shots, and really just being a floor general out there, being steady, rock solid, even when they’re trapping, giving him different looks.

“He’s making the right play, and that’s what we need from him night in and night out.”

Never had Murray been a better orchestrator of Malone’s offense.

“It just felt like they were blitzing every pick-and-roll, just basically trying to limit my shot attempts, and I just wasn’t fighting it,” Murray said after that game. “We’ve got a squad. We’ve got a lot of guys that can come and impact the game, a lot of guys playing with confidence, so I’m not going to fight it. Make an easy pass, and that’s why I’ve got four other guys out there.

“You don’t have to fight it. I’m not on a team where I’ve got to force it or hold the ball too long. I’ll gladly give up if we’re winning games.”

Malone may have said it a lot, but he couldn’t have said it better.

Together, Murray and Jokic are averaging a combined 53.4 points, 19.8 rebounds and 20.8 assists in the finals, making them an almost impossible pick-and-roll duo to decipher, much less defuse.

“That should be an affront to him, that people just look at him as a scorer,” Malone said Sunday, “because ever since he became a starting point guard, he is charged with the responsibility of running this team, making every one of his teammates better, on top of being an aggressive scorer looking for his shot, on top of being a rebounder at his size and physicality, as well as being an engaged defender.”

And while Jokic’s popularity has exploded this summer, the Nuggets are hoping Murray will finally get his due as a distributor.

“The challenge is always for you to be an All-Star and All-NBA player, and for you to be the guy that is, along with Nikola, putting this team on your back, it requires commitment and effort all across the board,” Malone said.

“I know that he’s capable of making his teammates better. He’s shown that in the past. I think it’s just constantly striving to become the best version of yourself. Jamal is really committed to trying to be the best version. That’s allowing him to be a historical player and allowing him to have that in his first four finals games is just incredible.”

Murray’s offensive game hasn’t suffered from his increased assist totals, either. He’s averaging 26.7 points in these playoffs, up from his 20-point average in the regular season as he worked his way back from a knee injury that sidelined him for the Nuggets’ two previous playoff appearances.

“I’m just happy to be in this position, knowing that everything I did to rehab was solid,” Murray said.