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Nuggets’ Malone says beating Heat will be a big challenge

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                                Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone holds the conference championship trophy after Game 4 on May 22.


    Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone holds the conference championship trophy after Game 4 on May 22.

Aaron Gordon bristled at the notion the Denver Nuggets must operate the “rust versus rest” seesaw with 10 days between their Western Conference title celebration in Los Angeles and the start of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.


“We’ve been working,” Gordon declared about 15 hours after the Nuggets finally learned who they’ll have to beat to secure the franchise’s first Larry O’Brien gold ball trophy. “It’s not like we’ve had our hands back and feet kicked up.”


“We’ve been locked in, in the gym, working diligently,” Gordon insisted. “So, we feel like we’re in a good space. It’s been a good balance of work to rest. Happy we have home court advantage.”

Miami’s 103-84 shellacking of the Celtics in Boston in Game 7 on Monday night sent the Heat to Denver for Game 1 on Thursday night. Had the Celtics been the first of 151 teams to ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven basketball series, the Nuggets would have headed East for Games 1 and 2.

Instead, the Nuggets get to stay in the Mile High City, where they’ve been since returning from their 113-111 win over the Lakers on May 22, and host a Heat team that’s been playing every other night and won’t have much time to acclimate to the city’s mile-high altitude.

So, yes, Gordon acknowledged, he was actually rooting for Jimmy Butler to come to Denver this week, and not because he wanted to avoid Jayson Tatum, either.

“You always want to keep home court,” Gordon said. “So, first and foremost what we worked for all season was to get home court advantage.”

Top-seeded in the West for the first time in franchise history, the Nuggets have won all eight of their playoff games at Ball Arena, pushing their league-best home record to 42-7, while going 12-3 overall in these playoffs, including series clinching wins on the road against the Suns and Lakers.

The Heat haven’t won in Denver since Nov. 30, 2016, but it’s the Nuggets who are novices on this stage.

Miami has been to the Finals many times before, winning it all in 2006, 2012 and 2013.

“We’ve got the utmost respect for them. They fight and they scrap, they have no quit in them,” Gordon said

The Nuggets are one of six teams who have never won an NBA title. This is their first championship series appearance since losing to Julius Erving and the New York Nets in 1976, after which the wonderful and wacky ABA was disbanded.

Fanduel Sportsbook favors the Nuggets to win their first NBA championship over the Heat, who are the second No. 8 seed to make it this far. But coach Michael Malone repeated his admonition to his players not to pay attention to all the accolades or outside noise.

“Well, as I told our team, forget the eight seed stuff,” Malone said. “They beat Milwaukee 4-1. That team had the most wins in the NBA this year. They beat Boston 4-3 and they were up 3-0, the team with I think the second most wins in the NBA this year.”

“So, you get to the NBA Finals, it’s not about seeding anymore,” added Malone, “and for those who are thinking that this is going to be an easy series, I don’t even know what to say to you people.

“This is going to be the biggest challenge of our live. This is the NBA Finals. We’re trying to win the first NBA championship in franchise history, and it’s going to be the hardest thing that we’ve ever done, which is the way it should be.”

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