The Denver Nuggets are the fifth consecutive NBA champion to stumble in their attempt to repeat, but they remain optimistic about the future

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Michael Porter Jr. reacts after the time ends

As the disappointment of losing a 20-point lead in Game 7 set in, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone repeated a familiar theme for his talented but worn-out team.

“I consider the San Antonio Spurs a dynasty, and they never won back-to-back,” Malone said, acknowledging the team that won NBA titles in 2003, 2005, and 2007.

The Nuggets will need to adopt a similar approach after they attempt to become the first repeat champion since Golden State in 2018 ended abruptly with their 98-90 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, led by rising star Anthony Edwards.

Jamal Murray recovered from an elbow injury and a poor Game 6 to score 35 points, while three-time MVP Nikola Jokic added 34 points and 19 rebounds.

The duo combined for 32 points in the second half, but the rest of the team contributed just five points—a 3-pointer from Michael Porter Jr. and a basket from Christian Braun—as the Wolves secured their third win in four games at Ball Arena.

Porter, in particular, struggled against Minnesota’s strong defense. After averaging 22.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers, he was limited to 11.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in the second round.

Nikola Jokic reacts after a foul

Porter held himself responsible for the Nuggets’ early exit from the playoffs. “There are a lot of things we could’ve done differently as a team,” Porter said. “But I know if I would’ve played my part, we would’ve won this series. And I’ve got to live with that.”

Porter faced personal challenges entering these playoffs, with one brother sentenced to jail and another banned from the NBA for life due to a gambling scandal.

“I’m not going to sit here and act like it wasn’t a burden and I wasn’t thinking about it all day every day,” Porter said. “But that’s still no excuse. I’m a better player than I played in this series. I’m a better shooter than I shot in this series. In the NBA, you have to be able to separate your off-the-court matters with your on-the-court-play.”

Porter believes if he had handled these challenges better, along with facing the Wolves’ tough defense, the Nuggets would be preparing to face the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals this week.

Instead, they become the fifth consecutive NBA champion to fail to advance past the second round in their title defense.

Anthony Edwards drives forward to basket the ball

“We knew it was hard,” Malone said. “It was something I talked to our team in training camp. The last team to do it was the ‘17-18 Warriors and with the rules being what they are now I think it’s going to become even harder and harder to repeat as champions.”

Following the loss of key veterans Bruce Brown and Jeff Green in free agency after winning their first NBA title last summer, general manager Calvin Booth had limited options to rebuild the team due to new rules in the collective bargaining agreement. These rules make it tough for high-spending teams like the Nuggets to retain their core players and sign veteran free agents.

Denver’s starting five earned a total of $151.6 million this season, surpassing the $136 million salary cap even before considering the rest of the roster.

Instead of bringing in experienced veterans, the Nuggets gave playing time to young players like Christian Braun and Peyton Watson while integrating rookies Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett, and Hunter Tyson. Meanwhile, their rivals improved, mainly through trades and free-agency signings.

Nikola Jokix takes the ball forward against Karl Anthony

Nine of the top 10 teams in the Western Conference won more games this season than the previous year, including the Nuggets, who matched a franchise record with 57 wins—four more than the previous season—but dropped from the No. 1 seed to No. 2.

Braun showed significant improvement towards the end of the season and played a crucial role off the bench in the playoffs. Watson demonstrated his defensive skills, leading to impressive moments, but he didn’t earn enough trust from Malone to be part of the playoff rotation.

Experienced players like Justin Holliday, Reggie Jackson, and DeAndre Jordan made brief appearances postseason, while Strawther, Pickett, and Hunter played limited minutes against Minnesota.

The main difference in the series was Minnesota’s strong bench, featuring Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid, along with Kyle Anderson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

Anthony Edwards waits for the game to carry on

Although Denver’s starting lineup outscored Minnesota’s starters (565-551) in the series, Minnesota’s bench outscored Denver’s by a significant margin of 50 points—168-118.

The Nuggets couldn’t change the trend of the NBA having a new champion every year since 2019. Aaron Gordon mentioned that being the team everyone targets is tiring, and Jokic faced many tough minutes against Minnesota’s three-center rotation, joking about needing a clone.

Jokic is considering whether to play for Serbia at the Paris Olympics this summer, while Murray plans to play for Team Canada despite dealing with multiple injuries this season.

Looking ahead, Murray is focused on chasing another NBA title next season. “It’s back to being the hunter,” he said.


By Christopher Kamila

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