Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

Logo for Diehlman at Halftime column. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

At last, a champion has been crowned for the 2022-23 NBA season. The Denver Nuggets lifted
the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in franchise history, defeating the Miami Heat in five
games. Nikola Jokić was named the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight, Lowlight, Random Stat

Highlight: What a run for the Denver Nuggets! Once they clinched the top seed in the Western Conference at the end of the regular season, they never looked back.

Taking down Kevin Durant’s Phoenix Suns and LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers in back-to-back series was quite impressive, regardless of their seeding. It seemed like Jokić was dropping triple doubles every other night.

Jamal Murray, who missed the last two postseasons recovering from a torn ACL, shined in this year’s title run. Jokić and Murray will continue to be an unstoppable tandem in the future. Additionally, the rest of Denver’s rotation did a splendid job. Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Porter Jr. were key assets, as were Bruce Brown and rookie Christian Braun.

I saw many comments on social media saying how “boring” this Finals matchup was, or the fact that the Nuggets had an easy path (fourth seeded Phoenix was the best team they faced in the playoffs). But Denver played the hand they were dealt and finished the job.

After the miserable season the Denver Broncos had, we’ll have to see if they can keep the championship party going in the Mile High City.

Lowlight: Although Miami fans are probably upset about the loss, they shouldn’t be ashamed at their team’s performance. Not only were the Heat the second eighth seed in NBA history to advance to the Finals, but they can say that they’re the first play-in team to make the Finals.

In the play-in tournament, Miami got slapped by Atlanta and almost lost to Chicago. Once the
playoffs began, we saw the Bucks collapse in epic fashion. We dubbed Jimmy Butler as “Himmy
Butler.” The Heat got past the Knicks and embarrassed the Celtics (but not before teasing fans
with the possibility of becoming the first team in NBA history to lose a playoff series after being
up 3-0).

So, why did the Heat lose in the Finals? The simple answer: Denver was the better all-around team. To be frank, losing Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo was going to haunt the Heat eventually. Butler, Bam Adebayo, and 37-year-old Kyle Lowry can only do so much.

Despite Miami’s frustrating regular season, they should be back in the playoff hunt next season. I mean,
they were the top seed in the East last year! There are expectations for this team, and they can’t afford to be downhearted about this loss.

My only concern was how Butler disappeared for stretches against Denver. A team’s best player has to find a way to make an impact throughout the entire game, not just in bunches.

You know the rest of the Eastern Conference can’t wait for their chance to take on Miami next season.

Random Stat: Jokić’s play in this postseason has cemented him as an all-time great. However,
discussions are beginning in regards to the question, “Is Jokić a top-five center in NBA history?”

Currently, the best centers include, in no particular order: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain,
Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. All five of them have strong
arguments to remain in the top five.

Russell claimed 11 rings in 13 years. Chamberlain won two titles and averaged 30.1 points and an NBA-record 22.9 rebounds per game for his career. Olajuwon won consecutive championships in the mid-1990s, and his “Dream Shake” was one of the filthiest signature moves in league history. O’Neal is arguably the most dominant player to wear an NBA uniform, and he won four titles. Finally, Abdul-Jabbar won six championships in his career: one in Milwaukee, and the other five in L.A. because he and Magic Johnson bulldozed the NBA.

Jokić solidified himself as the best player in the world this season, and the Nuggets will be tough to stop in the near future. But, I think we should hold off on the “Jokić is in the top-five centers ever” conversations. If Denver were to repeat next year or win another title in the next two seasons or so, then they might have a point. For now, let’s just enjoy the history we witnessed in these playoffs.

Note from the author: I would like to thank everyone who has read “Diehlman at Halftime” for
the last two-and-a-half seasons. I started this column in Feb. 2021, and it has been an honor to
bring you NBA coverage every single week.

We’ve praised teams for doing well, and we’ve questioned teams who haven’t been so good. And to top it all off, we’ve celebrated the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, and Denver Nuggets as champions in the three postseasons we covered here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the final season of this column. Now that I’ve graduated from Rowan University, I’m looking to do a “Diehlman at Halftime” podcast as soon as next season, so stay tuned for updates. Until that time comes, see you later, fellow basketball fans!

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.