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The Joker is an NBA Champion

Júlia Peres



The 2023 NBA has come to an end. 30 teams took part in the championship, but only 2 of them made it to the finals. One from each conference, Western and Eastern. On the Western side, the Denver Nuggets won the Conference with a spectacular journey sweeping one of the greatest champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. On the other hand, on the Eastern side, Miami Heat also defeated one of the greatest NBA champions in the conference finals, the Boston Celtics. The NBA finals occurred in June, and after 5 games, for the first time ever, the Denver Nuggets raised the trophy.


Finalists

Denver Nuggets was founded in 1967 and in 2023 they have, for the first time, won the NBA as well as winning the Western Conference championship. When founded, Denver Nuggets were referred to as the Denver Larks, and before their first season in the ABA (American Basketball Association) even began, they changed their name to the Denver Rockets, which they held until 1974. When ABA merged with the NBA, they changed their name again, as another team from the NBA already used the name Rockets (Houston Rockets). The name Nuggets was established because it symbolizes gold mining—a reference to Colorado's rich mining history. The Denver Nuggets play in the Ball Arena, a multi-purpose indoor arena in Denver, Colorado. Doug Moe, the team's head coach in 1984-1985, led them to a 54-win season, the best team other than the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics that year. They progressed farther, making the playoffs six times between 1984 and 1990 but failing to reach the conference finals each time due to a lack of star power. Denver has always found ways to be competitive despite never having superstars on its squad until lately, with Nikola Jokic(known as The Joker) bringing them back into competitiveness this year.


Miami Heat was founded in 1988. They have won 3 NBA championships in 2006, 2012 and 2013, and have won 7 conference championships in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2020 and 2023. Miami Heat's name have been debated and rejected several times(names such as: "Sharks", "Beaches", and "Barracudas"), therefore, they settled "Heat" to represent the hot climate of South Florida. Heat plays in the Kaseya Center which is also a multi-purpose arena located in Biscayne Bay, Miami. Throughout history, the Miami Heat's success has been built around its star players. Most notably: Dwyane Wade, who led them to two championships during his time playing in Miami Heat; Alonzo Mourning; Shaquille O'Neal; Chris Bosh; LeBron James, who helped bring home another championship victory in the 2012-13 season alongside Wade and Bosh, forming what became known as "The Big 3"; and Jimmy Butler, who recently led the team to back to back Playoff contention after missing out for several years due to injuries or other issues among key players.


Path To Finals

The champion, Denver Nuggets, finished the qualifiers in first place with 53 wins. In the conference quarterfinals, the Nuggets encountered the Minnesota Timberwolves who finished the qualifiers in 8th place, where Denver won by a 4-1 margin. In the conference semi-finals, Denver faced Phoenix Suns, where the Nuggets had a little more difficulty, yet still defeated the Phoenix team by 4-2. In the Western Conference Finals, Denver Nuggets swept the all-time greatest champion(tied with Boston Celtics), Los Angeles Lakers, beating them by 4-0, qualifying for the first time to the NBA Finals.


Despite starting the postseason as the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed, the Miami Heat did the impossible and went to the 2023 NBA Finals via the play-in round in improbable fashion. Miami Heat was defeated by the Atlanta Hawks in their opening matchup of the play-in round, 116-105. As a result, Miami was forced to play in the loser's bracket, where they defeated the Chicago Bulls. In the quarterfinals, Heat faced the team with the best campaign in the qualifying phase, the Milwaukee Bucks. Miami won 2 of the first 3 games in the series, games in which the Milwaukee Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo, their main player. The Heat took advantage and eliminated the Bucks 4-1. In the semi-finals, Heat defeated New York Knicks by the score of 4-2. Finally, Heat encountered the conference favourites in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston Celtics. Heat opened a good 3-0 lead, and were basically qualified to the finals. However, the Celtics made it to game 7. In game 7, in Boston, Heat easily won by 103-84 and won the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing their spot in the NBA Finals.


Finals

The NBA Finals occurred from June 01 - June 12. The Denver Nuggets started off by winning the first game at home by the score of 104-93. Miami Heat, however, in the second game, managed to defeat the home team by 111-108. The third and fourth games were decided in the Kaseya Center, home of the Miami Heat. The Denver Nuggets were able to defeat the home team twice by the scores of 109-94 and 108-95. Game 5 was then decided in the Ball Arena, home of the Nuggets who were declared champions after the win of 94-89.


Keys to Denver Nuggets' Title

Despite the Denver Nuggets winning easily against the Miami Heat, Colorado's team counted on some massive help. Since the Denver Nuggets had swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference's Finals while the Miami Heat decided their conference in game 7, the Nuggets had more practice and rest time.


Additionally, Tyler Herro, one of the best shooters in the Heat’s team, got injured in the game against the Milwaukee Bucks and was out of the Finals. Tyler Herro had an average of 20 points in the regular season and he for sure was missed by the Miami team. Moreover, 3 players (undrafted role players) of the Miami Heat that had astonishing performances in the Conference finals had terrible performances in the NBA finals; them being Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin. For instance, they worsened their average PPG(points per game) in the Eastern Conference Finals compared to the NBA Finals. Max Stus' average PPG went from 9.4 to 5, Gabe Vincent's average decreased from 15.8 to 5, as well, and Caleb Martin's average reduced from 19.3 to 10.3.


As for Denver Nuggets' players, they had outstanding performances of individual players; them being Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon. where Jokić was awarded the MVP in the finals as a consequence of this. Furthermore, Jokić improved his statistics from the regular season to the finals, becoming the leader in points, assists and rebounds in the playoffs. In the finals, he increased his average points from 24.5 (in the regular season) to 30, as well as increasing his average assist from 6.6 to 9.5 and rebounds from 10.5 to 13.5.


We’ll have to wait till next season to see if Victor Wembanyama's San Antonio Spurs will be able to stop Joker's Denver Nuggets.


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