NBA Finals

Nuggets’ altitude advantage? Not really, says Heat coach Spoelstra

Paul Mata

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Nuggets’ altitude advantage? Not really, says Heat coach Spoelstra

BACK AT IT. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media before the 2023 NBA Finals.

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

‘If Denver wants to tip this thing off at the top of Everest, we'll do that,’ says Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra

DENVER, USA – Right off the bat Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked about Denver’s high altitude heading into the 2023 NBA Finals series, but he was quick to brush off such nonsense.

“We’re not getting into any of that stuff,” he said. “Our guys are in great shape. They’re ready to compete.” 

“If Denver wants to tip this thing off at the top of Everest, we’ll do that,” Spoelstra said as he heads to his sixth NBA Finals series as a head coach.

Denver, known as the “Mile High City,” sits a mile above sea level, supposedly making it hard for visiting teams to play as athletes unused to the high altitude usually tire out faster.

But Spoelstra even poked fun at the question, noting the Nuggets could also face some problems when the series shifts to Miami for Games 3 and 4.

“They’ve also got to come back to Miami. If you want to make it about that, we’ll turn off the air conditioning and they’ve got to play in 90-degree humidity, sap the s*** out of their legs. 

“This thing is going to be decided between those four lines, and we’ll decide it then,” he emphasized.

Game 1 of the best-of-seven title series tips off on Thursday, June 1 (Friday, June 2, Manila time).

(SCHEDULE: 2023 NBA Finals, Philippine time)

Game plan for the Nuggets

After a challenging series against the Boston Celtics, Spoeltra knows he has his hands full against the Nuggets, who rely on the duo of two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and a revitalized Jamal Murray.

“They’re both dynamic. They both can do it on their own, but they also both really complement each other,” said Spoelstra.

“That’s hard to find in this league, when your two best players just absolutely complement each other. They both have scored 50 in a playoff game, and they both can be facilitators.”

“They play the right way,” he added. “That’s something that you have to do. Try to get them out of that rhythm. There’s no easy way to do that. You just have to find a way.”

The Filipino-American coach pointed out that the Nuggets’ triple-double machine would pose a lot of problem.

“He’s very unique. He doesn’t really have any noticeable weaknesses in terms of his size and his skill set. He’s got a myriad of ways that he can impact the game and impact winning.”

Spoelstra was quick to complement the Nuggets, especially head coach Michael Malone on the culture that they have established here.

“Mike and his staff have just done a tremendous job of building a system that fits perfectly around their two top players, and they do all the right things,” said Spoelstra. 

“You’re not going to have any kind of weaknesses or glitches or cracks in a culture or professionalism or anything like that.”

The Heat coach already saw the potential for the Nuggets’ success back in the Orlando bubble in 2020. 

“We didn’t necessarily hang out with them in the bubble, but competitors recognize competitors, and we would acknowledge them,” said Spoelstra. 

“We didn’t have to face them in the playoffs, but we always just seemed to bump into them. The staff would bump into each other out on the lake. For whatever reason we were all fishing out there, and those were the two organizations that were doing it. I have no idea why.”

In the bubble, that Nuggets team overcame a 1-3 series disadvantage in the first two rounds against the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers before losing in the conference finals against the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We thought this would be a good run for a long time. If Murray didn’t get hurt [in 2021], they probably would have had a couple of Finals berths. That’s how great of a duo they are, and a system Mike and his staff have built that really fits,” said Spoelstra.  

“I think, we all think they’re legit, and in some ways, it’s a mirror image series, not in terms of style, but teams that probably have been overlooked, underestimated, and built a chip on their shoulder over that.

A special Heat team

A lot has also been said about this year’s Heat lineup, most of them were undrafted and unheralded coming into the league, and how they have been able to thrive in the Heat culture.

“This group has been able to overcome a lot of different things, handle a lot of adversity, setbacks,” said Spoelstra.“Things that have not gone the way we wanted it to go. Instead of having that collapse in our spirit, it allowed us to develop some fortitude and grit collectively. It gave us something to rally around, which was each other.”

“It’s tough to explain it to people on the outside. But when you have these privileges to be able to go through adversity or setbacks and learn from that, I think those are lessons that we all could benefit from. 

“You develop a grit and a collective perseverance and fortitude,” said Spoelstra, emphasizing again a characteristic of the Heat culture that he has helped built, making him one of the longest tenured coach in the league. 

“If you approach it the right way, which this group does, you can really grow. They can be incredible life experiences, to be able to come together like that.”  –

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