Trail Blazers Nuggets Basketball

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic competes Tuesday in Denver.

Praise the golden Nuggets and the grit ‘n grind Grizzlies, and pity those poor Suns of the desert.

After rallying to defeat the Timberwolves the Nuggets, at 32-13, have won 15 in a row at The Jar, possess the preeminent record in the Western Conference and accomplished the finest mark in their NBA history through 45 games.

In the consensus of NBA rankings, the Nuggets are first overall and could be tied with the Celtics with a league best 34-13 record at the end of the weekend.

As the only mediarite to first witness a Denver professional basketball game in 1970, I deem this to be the franchise’s all-time Cream Team that will rise to the top. I haven’t changed my opinion from before the season that the Nuggets finally win their first title.

They are playing like champs and should be the No. 1 seed in the West. The Suns, who beat the Nuggets, without injured Jamal Murray in the conference semis two seasons ago, have been reduced to chumps at 23-24, currently 12th, and may not even make the play-in tournament. Yet, the Nuggets would cherish playing the Suns or the Warriors in the first round.

Having covered Memphis and Denver in two basketball leagues during six decades, I crave their confrontation in the Western Conference finals.

The Nuggets are the better team to follow, the Grizzlies the more fun team to watch. Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco don’t care about Denver and Memphis, but Boston or Brooklyn might be flummoxed.

The Suns are set. The Bucks stop here. Let the Mile High City by the Rocky Mountains and the Bluff City by the mighty Mississippi River reign. Mark Twain would enjoy the series between Elvis’ two favorite towns.

The Grizzlies have won 11 straight, and the Nuggets scored the last eight points Tuesday night to earn their eighth consecutive victory.

Nikola Jokic is in perfect position to become a three-peat Most Valuable Player, but Ja Morant definitely could be the People’s Choice Award winner. America would learn to love, not loathe, these two.

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The Nuggets recently ripped the Suns 126-97, and the Grizzlies followed with its own 136-106 blowout of the Suns. Phoenix can’t rise from the ashes.

But Monty Williams brought a case of whine to Denver. In addition to the usual complaints about the altitude, the Suns coach used the back-to-back games in San Francisco and Denver, the time zone change, the flight time and even the ride from the airport to downtown as excuses for the blowout. “When you fly two hours and then have to drive 30-40 minutes, that’s a lot on any team,’’ he said.

What – the cheese plate on the team charter was too warm and his hotel suite was too cold? The Suns should have tried flying Southwest during Christmas.

Williams ought to study the ancient history of the old Denver Rockets and the Memphis Pros of the ABA.

As a 24-year-old beat reporter I traveled with the Pros in the 1970-71 season when they began with a game in the Auditorium Arena in downtown Denver, then, in the next four games over five nights, played in Salt Lake City, on Long Island in New York, in Indianapolis and again in Denver. The players, even 7-footers, rode in steerage and had to change planes four separate times. Four years later I was traveling with the Rockets for eight sequential games on the road, two airplane mechanical malfunctions, six lengthy airport delays, several bus rides and a walk with two players from an arena in a dangerous area when we were scared. First-class flights, limousines, expensive dinners and chartered aircraft didn’t exist in the ABA, and a coach had to put the team’s hotel bill on his credit card. The shabby rooms were $15 a night, and players food per diem was 10 bucks.

Sorry, Monty.

With the pair of ABA teams from Denver and Memphis meeting 12 times in the 1970-71 regular season, the Pros beat the Rockets seven times, and no attendance reached 5,000. The Pros finished 41-43 and the Rockets 30-54.

Wouldn’t it be fair, distinct and even if the two former ABA West cities ended up 1-2 in the seeding and played each other at last in the NBA Western Conference finals? Neither ever has won a league title.

Go Griz and Nugs.

Woody Paige has been a sports and general columnist in Colorado with the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Colorado Springs Gazette and The Denver Gazette since 1974. He has been a commentator for the ESPN network on six different shows for 20 years.

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