NBA Finals roundtable: Have Nuggets wrecked Miami’s Cinderella mojo?

Mark Kiszla: The Nuggets are better at basketball than Miami. They know it. And so do the Heat. Here’s what I want you savvy hoops experts to tell me: Can Denver put the hammerlock on this championship series in Game 4? I think it might come down to mindset as much as X’s and O’s. Did Nikola Jokic and the gang learn from the hard lesson of letting down their guard and losing focus in Game 2? We all know Jimmy Butler is tough as nails. And the Heat is facing a must-win situation. But I don’t think the Nuggets will be satisfied with a split in South Florida. Here’s their chance to eliminate the drama and get on with planning the championship parade.

Mike Singer: There’s a big difference between winning Game 3 and taking home court back and losing Game 3, and then winning Game 4. The Nuggets have already done the hard part in winning in Miami. There’s a reason practice was light Thursday, and everyone around the team was in a good place. They have an opportunity to seize complete control of this NBA Finals. But can they maintain their desperation even when human nature suggests it’s not a must-win situation? Given the championship mettle of this team, I think they can. Given the business-like approach of Nikola Jokic, and the dogged nature of Jamal Murray, the Nuggets have an excellent chance to be greedy.

Bennett Durando: First off, Game 4 is not viewed by the Nuggets as a house money game or a chance to be “greedy.” They don’t want a three-game series, even if two of the three are at home. I don’t expect anything lackadaisical from the visitors. That said, the one thing I have learned to never rule out is, as Kiz calls it, the Cinderella mojo of the Heat. It felt after Game 2 like this series was swaying not on talent, but on Miami’s superior toughness. In a Finals where home court has been irrelevant, think of Friday’s clash as a similar setup to Game 2. Translation: This will be the more difficult game to win than Game 3. The way I see it, stealing Game 7 on the road after blowing a 3-0 lead (and a last-second Game 6 edge) is the most resilient scenario of all. Miami’s been to Boston, done that. So a measly little 2-1 series deficit? From the mental standpoint Kiz is asking about, that’s nothing to the Heat. Cinderella is alive and well.

Sean Keeler: The carriage is a pumpkin, baby. In NCAA Tournament terms, the Heat are a plucky 11 seed that got hot at the right time, hit a wave and rode that bad boy all the way to the Final Four. The problem with 11 seeds and waves is that they eventually run into a juggernaut, like so many rocks, and come crashing down to Earth. The Heat have got to play at their 90th percentile, almost a perfect game, to beat the Nuggets home or away. Coach Erik Spoelstra basically admitted as much after a disappointing Game 3, sounding very much like a mid-major coach who, in the back of his mind — and would never dare say this out loud — is sort of just happy to be here. That’s the thing about Cinderellas in the postseason. Eventually, even fairy godmothers run out of tricks.

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