There had been 11 active franchises to never win the NBA Finals but that number is now 10 as the Denver Nuggets, a former charter member of the ABA who never won a title in that league, either, finished off the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the 2023 Finals with a 94-89 win in Denver on Monday night to conclude the 2022-23 season. Nikola Jokic won NBA Finals MVP honors as he should have and now is truly among the pantheon of all-time greats in the league to go with his two regular-season MVPs.
First-Time NBA Champion Denver Nuggets Open As Favorites To Repeat In 2024
Denver went 16-4 en route to its first title. Only the 2017 Warriors (16-1) lost fewer games. Jokic & Co. went through Kevin Durant/Devin Booker, LeBron James and Jimmy Butler. Jokic is the first NBA player to ever lead the playoffs in points, rebounds and assists. He closed out Miami with 28 points, 16 rebounds and 4 assists on Monday and averaged 30.2 points, 14 rebounds and 7.2 assists in the Finals.
Jokic became the lowest-drafted player (41st overall in the second round in 2014) to win the Finals MVP, passing Dennis Johnson, who was drafted 29th overall in 1979. He also became only the third second-round pick to win Finals MVP, joining Willis Reed and Johnson (Moses Malone won the 1983 Finals MVP with the Philadelphia 76ers but wasn’t drafted by an NBA team because he started his career in the ABA with the Utah Stars).
Finally healthy and whole, Jokic and Jamal Murray proved to be a tandem that opponents could not contain this postseason. They are the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a single postseason.
“I knew once we were healthy, we could do it,” Murray said. “So this was long overdue. … I think this is the first of many.”
Denver entered the postseason as the No. 6 favorite with +1100 odds to win its first title despite earning the Western Conference top seed. They were +1400 to win the 2023 title directly following the 2022 NBA Finals. The Nuggets’ 46 seasons before winning an NBA Championship is the most by any team prior to 1st title.
It has been quite a three-year run for Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, one of the richest men alive. His Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in the Super Bowl following the 2021 season, and his Colorado Avalanche hoisted the Stanley Cup last summer after dispatching the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
“It’s like having children: You love them all,” Kroenke said. “It’s unbelievably exciting. I’m just so happy for everybody involved, particularly the city, which for 47 years they never had this.”
The Nuggets could lose Bruce Brown in free agency, but their championship starting five of Murray, Jokic, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon are all under contract through at least 2024-25 (Caldwell-Pope has a player option and can be a free agent in 2024).
Jokic is entering the first year of the five-year, $272 million supermax extension he signed in July. Murray has two years left and is extension eligible this offseason, Gordon has three seasons remaining and Porter has four years left. As the defending NBA champions, the Nuggets will play at home on Opening Night to tip off the 2023 season.
Miami was trying to become the first No. 8 seed to win the NBA Finals and is a +2200 longer shot to win it all next year with the Heat linked to guys like Fred VanVleet and Chris Paul as an upgrade at point guard. Key contributors Gabe Vincent and Max Strus will be free agents. Guard Tyler Herro will have to be reintegrated into the group after missing almost the entirety of this postseason with a broken right hand. Star Jimmy Butler will be 34 in September and he needs help. The Heat are pretty tight up against the salary cap.
The Boston Celtics (+650), Milwaukee Bucks (+800), Dallas Mavericks (+900) and Phoenix Suns (+900) are the favorites to win the 2024 title immediately after Denver. Interesting that Dallas is so high considering the Mavericks missed these playoffs and Kyrie Irving is a free agent.
Charlotte (+30000) and Detroit (+400000) are the two NBA title long shots for next season. San Antonio is +100000 and will add mega-touted prospect Victor Wembanyma at No. 1 overall in the draft later this month.
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