Nick Friedel | ESPNReading: 4 min.
Denver – The The Miami Heat understand they need to stop Nikola Jokic if they want to win the 2023 NBA Championship. They know it will be difficult for the rest of the league to do, but they believe they are ready to go Thursday night against Jokic and Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
“It’s pretty unique,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday. “He doesn’t have any significant weaknesses in terms of his size, skill. He can impact the game and win in a thousand ways.”
To make the two-time MVP’s life on the court more difficult, Heat star Jimmy Butler and his teammates know they need to keep an eye on the big man wherever he goes on the court.
“Defending it as a team with five guys,” Butler said. “He’s doing everything well, we’ve got to stay in the gap, we’ve got to come back as a team. We can’t afford to have defensive lapses. We’ve got to get back. That.” DJ As Khaled says, “I think at the end of the day he’s a key player and we have to make sure.”
Heat center Bam Adebayo will spend most of his time guarding Jokic. Heat big men Kevin Love and Cody Zeller didn’t play much late in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, but Spoelstra said matchups and minutes could play out differently in this series. For his part, Adebayo reiterated that the key to marking Jokic is to play hard.”
“Forcing him to take tough shots and live with the consequences,” Adebayo said. “That’s the most important thing for me. I feel like this is one of those series where he becomes more dangerous when you let his teammates get involved, and he can make those incredible passes and finish with 12 assists.”
As the Heat prepare for Jokic, they do so with the entrepreneurial core that has defined his postseason career. They were confident and focused during Wednesday’s media day and followed the tone Butler continues to set for the team.
“I’d like to say I’m never nervous,” Butler said. “I’m very calm. I’m very calm before the game, after the game, during the game, and when my guys see me like that, I think they do the same.”
“I love that about them because they never waver. No matter what. We can be down and people think we’re out, and all of a sudden we’re back at it because we do the same thing every day. We love being around. We want each other to succeed, We really enjoy it when other people play well and we’re going to keep doing that, we’re never going to get nervous, we’re going to see where we end up.”
Spoelstra echoed a similar tone in praising Nuggets coach Michael Malone and the culture his staff has built around Jokic and his team.
“I don’t know why the mainstream media is asleep in Denver,” Spoelstra said. “But when we saw them on the bubble, we thought, OK, this team is basically going to do what they’ve been doing this year. We thought it’s going to be a long time. If Murray hadn’t gotten hurt, they would have had a couple of berths in the finals. That’s them as a duo, and Mike and his How great the staff and an organization that really fits.
“I think we all think they’re legit, and in a way it’s a mirror image series, not in terms of style, but maybe teams that are overlooked, underrated, have a chip on their shoulder. It’s sorted. A great rivalry.”