You gotta have heart, Nuggets.
Miles ‘n miles n’ of mile high of heart to beat the Jazz.
A half century after Rocky Mountain foes Denver and Salt Lake City first converged in professional basketball playoffs, they are together apart again for a record seventh time.
Far, far away from their homes in Colorado and Utah, in Florida’s big basketball bubble, the Jazz and the Nuggs get it on Monday at 11:30 a.m.
Jazz megastar Donovan Mitchell says: “It’s not going to be easy.’’
The Nuggets and the Jazzers sort of, as they could, manipulated the bubblegum games to play each other. They should have been careful of what they coveted.
There’s no home-court advantage, no altitude benefit (Disney World is 108 feet above sea level) and no significant betting favorite in Game 1 (-1.5 Nuggets).
Eight days ago, these two played two overtimes, with the Nuggets nudging the Jazz 134-132. Way back when, the Nuggets prevailed by six, then three. The Nuggets finished the season with 46 victories, the Jazz 44.
Utah is spearheaded by Mitchell, a shooting guard, and center Rudy Gobert.
Ponder this: In 2013 the Nuggets drafted Gobert, from France, 27th overall and immediately traded him to the Jazz for the 46th pick and cash. In 2013 the Nuggets drafted Mitchell, from Louisville 13th and promptly traded him to the Jazz for Trey Lyles and the 24th choice. OMG!
In retrospect, those could be considered two of the worst transactions in NBA history. Think of the Dutch deal for Manhattan and the Louisiana Purchase.
The Nuggets wound up with Erick Green in ’13 in the second round, and he never became any kind of Nuggets’ or NBA player. Lyles was a Nuggets’ utilityman for two seasons. The draft selection became Tyler Lydon, who had two uneventful years for the Nuggets.
And if that set of events wasn’t bizarre enough, the Nuggets’ No. 1 lottery grab in 2015, Emmanuel Mudiay, now is a Jazz guard.
Mitchell and Gobert may have been world-class Nuggets players, but, to be objective, the Nuggets may be better off in the long stretch with drafted players Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
This series will be a tall tale. Who would the Jazz and the Nuggets rather have? Who they got.
Beyond the trades, Salt Lake City and Denver, despite their geographical connections, have been acrimonious adversaries for decades, if not forever.
The rivalry is not just about pro basketball, college football and Major League soccer. They have battled over the ski industry, the Olympics and metropolitan prestige.
The University of Colorado and University of Utah joined the Pac-12 the same year (2011) after playing in football during 57 previous seasons. Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics, but gave them back over environmental issues. Utah just laughed.
Salt Lake City won the rights to the 2002 Winter Olympics, but became embroiled in bribery charges. Colorado scoffed.
The city and states have argued about their quality of ski resorts, airports, living standards and political beliefs.
In 2018, the United States Olympic Committee based in Colorado Springs chose Salt Lake City over Denver as its host city applicant for the 2030 Winter Games. Utah one-upped Colorado.
SLC and DEN have been Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in the ABA and the NBA, dating to 1970 when the Utah Stars defeated the Denver Rockets 4-1 in the young league’s division finals. They met again in ’75, with the Nuggets prevailing in six games. The Stars would fold; the Nuggets would join the NBA, and the New Orleans Jazz moved to Salt Lake.
Since then, the Jazz and the Nuggets have been matched in the playoffs in ’84, ’85, ’94 and 2010. The Jazz won three series and have the edge in regular-season victories (112-74) and the postseason (12-11).
The 1984 series, Utah’s first playoff in the NBA, was the most rancorous – primarily because of a Denver sports columnist, whose name I won’t divulge. After the Nuggets took a 2-1 lead in the series with a victory in Salt Lake, the writer proclaimed that the Jazz couldn’t advance because “they have no heart.’’
Utah’s team and fans became ballistic and blamed the fool. The Jazz won the final two games.
Nobody playing in this series was alive for that series.
The Nuggets have a beating heart and will triumph in six. Don’t blame me, Jazz.