In a press conference ahead of the highly anticipated NBA Finals, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone expressed his respect for the Heat and highlighted the immense challenge his team will face in the championship series. Despite Miami entering the playoffs as the 8th seed, Malone emphasized that their impressive victories against powerhouse teams should dismiss any notion of underestimating their ability.
“Forget the 8-seed stuff,” Malone stated firmly. “They beat Milwaukee, a team with the most wins in the NBA this year, they beat Boston, the team with the second most wins. It’s not about seeding anymore.
“And for those that are thinking that this is going to be an easy series, I don’t know what to say to you. freaking people. This is going to be the biggest challenge of our lives. It’s the NBA Finals. You’re trying to win the first NBA championship in franchise history. It’s gonna be the hardest thing that we’ve ever done which is the way it should be.”
Malone emphasized the need for his team to stay disciplined, particularly in areas where the Heat excel. He acknowledged the Heat’s prowess in capitalizing on turnovers, leading the playoffs in points off turnovers, and stressed the importance of the Nuggets limiting their own turnovers to avoid beating themselves.
“They’re leading the playoffs in points off turnovers. Close to 20 a night. That’s after I think 18 games played. So it’s pretty impressive,” the coach said. “And on the other end of that is that we’re number one in fewest points allowed off of our turnovers. So that’s a battle that’s going to be really important and we can’t turn the ball over. We know how good they are on the defensive end and we’ve had a great offense in large part because we are shooting the ball well, we’re not turning the ball over.”
Both teams possess sharpshooting abilities, and Malone highlighted the significance of defending the three-point line against the Heat’s talented shooters. He praised the contributions of Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Max Struss, and the returning Tyler Herro, acknowledging their impact beyond the attention drawn by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
“I’ve just been so impressed with Gabe Vincent and poise and confidence he’s playing with,” Malone continued. “And Caleb Martin could easily have won the MVP of that Eastern Conference Championship. He’s shooting into a very big basket right now, playing with tremendous confidence. So the three-point defense will be really important in terms of guarding that.”
The Nuggets coach also emphasized the challenge of defending Jimmy Butler, emphasizing the need for varied defensive approaches throughout the series to limit his impact. Malone stressed the importance of discipline in not falling for shot fakes, as the Heat possess skilled players who excel at drawing fouls.
Additionally, Malone highlighted the Nuggets’ own strengths, emphasizing their ability to generate fast-break opportunities and their ranking as the second-best team in the playoffs in terms of fast break points. He stressed the importance of maintaining a fast pace and using the team’s home advantage to push the tempo and exploit the altitude factor.
“With a guy like Jimmy, you got to give him different looks, you cannot guard him with the same player or the same scheme over a game over four quarters or a series,” he said. “That’s going to be a challenge to go give him different looks and to keep him off the foul like. He’s third in the playoffs in free-throw attempts per game, I think around 9.1. We know a lot of their guys are real big shot fake players, so they’re disciplined to stay down, be the second man off the floor give them one shot it’s gonna be really important.”
As the Nuggets prepare for their first-ever NBA Finals appearance, Malone made it clear that the Heat present the toughest challenge they have faced. The Nuggets are determined to make history and secure their franchise’s first NBA championship, but they are fully aware that the Heat will demand their very best in every aspect of the game.