For the Denver Nuggets, their 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Final, has left them with something rarely experienced in the NBA – time on their hands.
While Miami and the Boston continue to battle it out in the West, with the Heat 3-2 up heading into Saturday’s game six, for Denver, heading into their first ever Finals, there is a 10-day wait for the series to begin.
“You’re playing every other day, every other day for so long and now all of a sudden you have a eight, nine, ten day break” said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone in a news conference on Friday.
The obvious risk is that a team could lose their rhythm by spending so long out of action but Malone says that is inevitable.
“It’s impossible to keep your rhythm if you’re not playing games. You can do whatever you want in practice, but there’s no way you can replicate playing an NBA playoff game,” he said.
Malone said the team had Tuesday off and were given the option of practice on Wednesday before a fitness session on Thursday and a more typical, albeit shorter, practice session on Friday.
Adding to the strangeness of the situation, the coaching staff cannot yet begin preparing tactically for the final.
“It’s a tough situation because you’re just kind of preparing for an opponent (but) you don’t know who you are going to play. So, as I told our players, right now, this is about us,” he said.
Malone says he is using the sessions to “clean up” some elements of the Nuggets’ play but he is also trying to ensure his team maintain their focus.
– Delicate Balance –
“It’s a delicate balance because I think in life, not just in sports, you have to enjoy moments. I think if you don’t enjoy the small victories and the moments along the way, I think you’re missing something,” he said.
“At the same time, we have much work in front of us. Our goal wasn’t just to win the Western Conference Championship. It wasn’t just to get to the NBA Finals. Our goal is to win a championship.
“I think it’s my job to remind our guys — don’t read and listen to everybody telling you how great you are. Because then you’re gonna get a little soft with success.
“I don’t want us getting soft with success. I want us staying hungry. I want us staying desperate and urgent and disciplined and that’s the biggest challenge right now,” he said.
Malone has his own personal challenges though, as he sits at home watching the Celtics-Heat games on television.
He has assigned members of staff to detailed analysis of both teams and says that “no matter who it is, we know that we’ll have our hands full”.
But he isn’t sat on the couch running various scenarios through his head, accepting that he too needs to find a little balance before the push for his first ever NBA championship.
“I can’t go home and be in game seven mindset because my wife and kids would leave me,” he joked.
“So I have to force myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that I am a husband, I am a father, and to be a part of my family. My family keeps me balanced. My family keeps me grounded,” he said.
“I think you also have to take time to enjoy the moment and be a regular person. If that means me going home today and beating my wife in pickleball, so be it.
“But I have to make sure that I’m taking a deep breath once in a while and enjoying the view, while also maintaining an eye and a perspective on what we have in front of us.
“And that’s our attitude as a team right now.”