Insider Insight: Nuggets broadcaster Vic Lombardi believes the Nuggets are all business heading into Game 5

June 12, 2023

Clearly, the Denver Nuggets approached their cross-country venture to Miami as a business trip. After a disappointing Game 2 in Denver, the Nuggets hopped on a plane, arrived in Miami, and proceeded to slice and dice the Heat en route to a 3-1 series lead.

Vic Lombardi, who covers the Nuggets for Altitude Sports, believes the return trip to Denver will be handled in much the same manner.

“One thing I’ve noticed about this team is that they don’t celebrate until they have to celebrate,” says Lombardi. “After they won in Miami, they went back to the hotel. The ride home in the bus wasn’t that crazy. It was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go back in and get ready for that last win; it’s not over.’”

It probably doesn’t hurt that everyone in the country saw what Miami did to the Boston Celtics. It likely helps Denver, too, that just three seasons ago, it was the Nuggets who were coming back from not one, but two 3-1 deficits in the Bubble.

“If anyone knows about coming  back from a 3-1 deficit, it’s the Nuggets,” Lombardi says. “They know that side of it.”

After convincing wins in Miami, it looks as if oddsmakers and bettors alike have settled in on the notion that Denver is clearly a better team. Road wins on the road of 13 and 15 points have a way of doing that.

“The adjustments are pretty much done. There’s only so much you can adjust to. At some point you’ve just got to play basketball. You’ve got to make shots,” Lombardi believes. “If Miami can make threes, they have a chance. If Miami does not make threes, they don’t have a chance. It’s really that simple.”

In Game 2, the Heat made 17 of them. In Games 3 and 4 combined, they made 19.

“One thing I’ve noticed about this series is that Denver’s defense just keeps getting better – just a little bit better, and a little bit better,” says Lombardi. “I thought Game 4’s defensive effort was better than Game 3’s.”

On the precipice of the unprecedented in Denver, the Nuggets – both internally and externally – appear to be ready to close out the series. Lombardi’s observations from Sunday’s shootaround suggest that the Nuggets know what needs to be done; they also know it won’t be easy.

“They don’t look tense. They’re cautious, but not tense. They understand what’s at stake, that that history is on the line, that this city’s first NBA Championship is in their grasp,” Lombardi says. “They understand all of that, but they also understand – to a man – that this will be the toughest game of the lot. Everybody to a man said that.”

The Nuggets are a whopping 9-point favorite and a -400 on the moneyline. Lombardi is leery of the spread.

“I’m wary of big lines,” he says. “You never know what happens at the end of games. You can have the game already in the bag and Miami is one of those cockroach teams. It doesn’t matter what the score is, they keep playing hard. I think 9 points is a ton to give up in an elimination game.

“When the Nuggets were in Phoenix for an elimination game, they made mincemeat out of the Suns, so perhaps that has something to do with it.”

“I think this will be much like the Game 5 against Minnesota, where it’s not easy. It’s never easy. Nobody said it would be easy. There is no easy button to push. I think it will be a game until the bitter end, but I think the Nuggets will end it tonight in Denver.”

Money Monday

Three suggestions for tonight’s finals action

Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
Ball Arena – Denver, CO
8:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Denver -9.0

Denver is 3-1 in close out games this postseason, including 3-0 in its last three chances. After an overtime loss to the Timberwolves prevented a sweep in round one, the Nuggets dispatched them at home in Game 5. In Game 6 in Phoenix, up 3-2, Denver embarrassed the Suns with a 125-100 win that eventually got head coach Monty Williams fired. And in Game 4 in Los Angeles, the Nuggets took their brooms to the Lakers with a key last second stop by Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon on LeBron James.

This team learned its lesson all the way back in April with that loss to Minnesota. They haven’t messed around when it comes to sending teams home since.

All three of the Nuggets’ wins in this series have come by double digits, which is what they’ll need to do again to cover this number. They prevailed by 11 in Game 1, 15 in Game 3 and 13 in Game 4.

Their only home loss of the playoffs came in Game 2. But Denver still sports a 9-1 record at Ball Arena in the postseason. And the Nuggets had some huge wins, including margins of 29, 18, 10 and 16.

In fact, in the nine home wins, the average margin of victory for the Nuggets has been 11.88 points per game. Denver isn’t just beating teams in the Mile High City; they’re blowing them out.

The Heat seem resigned to the fact they can’t keep up with the Nuggets. They’ve shot poorly in three of the four games in this series, leading to relatively easy wins for Denver.

They’ll do it again on Monday night. The Nuggets will win their first-ever title in convincing fashion, prevailing by at least 10 points.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Denver -9.0 (-110)


Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
Ball Arena – Denver, CO
8:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Denver-Miami over/under 208.5

It’s not a secret that neither squad has shot particularly well in this series, with one team shooting 32 percent or worse from three-point land in three of the four games. In Game 1, the Nuggets shot just 13-of-39 (33.3%) from deep, while the Heat went 8-of-27 (29.6%). In Game 3, Denver was just 5-of-18 (27.8%) from three, while Miami went 11-of-35 (31.4%).

That’s part of the reason why the under has hit in three of the four contests, with the totals checking in at 197, 218, 203 and 203. The intensity on defense has certainly picked up as well, given everything that’s on the line for both teams.

The “rest versus rust” debate hasn’t really affected the Nuggets’ star players, but it’s certainly affected their role players. Michael Porter Jr. is just 3-of-22 from three-point range in the series, a pitiful 13.6 percent. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope isn’t much better, connecting on just four of his 15 threes. And the Heat are (likely) still missing pure scorer Tyler Herro, who was good for more than 20 a game in the regular season before breaking his hand in Game 1 against Milwaukee.

Jimmy Butler also hasn’t had a signature game in these finals, averaging 21.8 points per night, well below what he did against the Bucks (37.6 PPG), Knicks (24.6 PPG) and Celtics (24.7 PPG). His 13 points in Game 1 were the lowest from him in the playoffs.

All these signs point toward another relatively low-scoring affair on Monday night, with this total finishing at under 208.5.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Denver-Miami under 208.5 (-110)


Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
Ball Arena – Denver, CO
8:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Nikola Jokic assists over/under 9.5

The Joker is averaging 9.8 assists per game in this postseason, just barely missing out on averaging a triple-double for the playoffs, which is absolutely remarkable. He’s posted 10 of those throughout the postseason, solidifying that he’s the best player in the world and probably should’ve won three-straight MVPs.

Jokic has had two of those against the Heat, including games with 14 assists and 10 assists. It’s very apparent the Nuggets are at their best when Jokic is a distributor and not a scorer, as he had 41 points in Game 2, their only loss of this series.

Denver is 9-1 when Jokic gets a triple-double in the playoffs, a good sign it’s going to win. Conversely, the Nuggets are a shocking 0-3 when Jokic scores 40 or more points.

With a chance to claim an NBA championship on Monday night, Jokic will be looking to pass the ball early and often. He’s had at least 10 assists in nine of his last 12 games, dating back to Game 3 with the Suns in Round 2. He’s put up some silly assist totals over the last two months, including 12, 12, 17, 11, 12, 12, 14, 12, 13 and 14.

Some foul trouble in Game 4 kept Jokic’s minutes down, but head coach Michael Malone is prepared to play him 40-plus minutes (maybe even 44 to 45), as he and the Nuggets want no business getting on a plane and heading back to South Beach for a Game 6.

Jokic will finish with well more than 10 assists, easily covering the most-tempting prop on the board in a close out chance for Denver.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Nikola Jokic over 9.5 assists (-145)