Well, isn't this a surprise? Just a week ago, NBA fans were lamenting the fact that they wouldn't see playoff basketball for a full week. After the Denver Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers, many expected the Miami Heat to follow suit. Instead, what we got was a bloodbath. The Celtics stuck their hands out from their supposed grave, and came back all the way to tie the series.
Now, the Nuggets await the winner of the do-or-die Game 7 between the Celtics and the Heat on Sunday. No matter who comes out of the East, though, Denver is already feeling pretty good with the outcome of this series.
Nuggets win by doing nothing
The NBA playoffs is a grueling grind to the top of the league. Playing every other day for more than a month will take a toll on anyone, and I mean anyone. That is why finishing a series early is crucial to a title hopeful's chances of winning. It lets the players get a much-needed breather for them to recover from their various injuries.
The Nuggets haven't had any significant injuries to their roster, but it's nice for them to get a quick break before the NBA Finals start. Players like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have time to rest up and prepare for their opponents. Considering the physicality of both the Heat and the Celtics, that rest will be needed by this squad.
Of course, the biggest advantage the Nuggets get here is from the two teams battling in the playoffs. Both the Heat and the Celtics look gassed (the Heat doubly so). No matter which team wins, they will only have two days before having to prepare for Denver in the NBA Finals. That's a massive advantage for multiple reason.
The first reason is painfully obvious: the Eastern Conference representative will be exhausted by the time the playoffs rolled around. The Heat have been running a short rotation all playoffs long, and we're starting to see the effects of that take hold in Miami. Meanwhile, the Celtics had to use all of their effort just to come back from the hole they dug themselves in. Even if they complete this comeback, Boston will undoubtedly be battered coming into the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, Denver just had a whole week full of light practice and scrimmage work. Compared to the Eastern Conference finalists, they sure have it easy.
The other advantage Denver gets here is the tactical advantage. Yes, it's possible that the Heat and/or the Celtics already have a game plan in mind to stop the potent Nuggets attack. Maybe they already have a scheme to guard the Jokic-Murray pick-and-roll. Or maybe they've theorized a way to take Jokic out of the game. However, both East teams will not have a chance to practice these tactics fully. Both teams were surely more busy winning the game in front of them (doubly so for Boston) than preparing for a distant opponent.
Of course, it's worth noting that there are times that a week off could do more harm to the resting team. Rust in sports is a real thing, and it's on the Nuggets staff to make sure that their players do not get “rusty” in the Finals. Still, Denver is coming into the Finals with a tangible advantage over their opponents. Can they capitalize on this and win their first-ever NBA title?