Lesser stars likely to have a decisive say
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Lesser stars likely to have a decisive say

The Heat's Caleb Martin, left, and Jimmy Butler during a play-off game. (Photo: AFP)
The Heat's Caleb Martin, left, and Jimmy Butler during a play-off game. (Photo: AFP)

Before this season, the Denver Nuggets had never even made it to the NBA Finals, let alone won a league championship -- that's 47 years worth of futility.

Standing between the Nuggets and their first NBA title are the Miami Heat, who have captured three Larry O'Brien trophies, emblematic of league supremacy.

The Heat captured the crown in 2006, 2012 and then repeated in 2013. On each of those ball clubs, Miami boasted at least two superstars.

In 2006, Dywane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal were their standouts. The trio of Lebron James, Wade and Chris Bosh led the Heat to back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

This season, Miami have only one truly great player, Jimmy Butler (28.5 points per play-off game, including one 52 point effort).

He is backed by a horde of good but not great players with varying skills. More on them later.

Meanwhile, it is the Denver Nuggets who instead boast two NBA superstars -- centre Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray.

Jokic averaged 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds during the regular campaign and is a two-time league Most Valuable Player.

But in his two MVP seasons (2020-21 and 2021-22) he didn't have Murray to accompany him in the postseason because of Jamal's injuries.

With Murray by Jokic's side this season, the Nuggets have gone farther than they ever have in the postseason.

Jokic is throwing in 30 points a game and grabbing 13 rebounds per outing in the play-offs.

Murray's outside sharpshooting and his productive drives to the hoop have enabled him to rack up 27.9 postseason points a game.

So, does the fact Denver have a dynamic duo going for it -- and Miami do NOT -- portend well for Denver as they strive for the brass ring of pro hoops?

Not necessarily, it says here.

Miami have a deep and versatile crew backing Butler up.

This bunch got hot at just the right time for the Heat, who finished EIGHTH in the Eastern Conference regular season standings and had to win a play-in contest over the Chicago Bulls to even qualify for the play-offs.

Among this dangerous support gang, Gabe Vincent, a fast driver and dead-eye shooter of a guard (13.1 per play-off game) has been invaluable in the postseason.

The three-point shooting of Max Krus and Duncan Robinson is also a key component for Miami in their amazing ride as the first eighth seed in 24 years to reach the Finals.

But perhaps the biggest -- and most surprising -- contributor in terms of having Butler's back has been forward Caleb Martin, who has been stupendous this postseason.

Martin has averaged 14.1 points per postseason contest, many of them HUGE buckets just when the Heat needed them most. And he's grabbed four boards per contest, in support of centre Bam Adabayo.

Martin may have even caused one to pause for a second before giving Butler the MVP trophy for the Eastern Conference finals after the Heat beat the Boston Celtics 4-3. That's how clutch Martin has been.

But Denver have not gotten this far solely on the shoulders of Jokic and Murray.

At times, Michael Porter Jr's play (14 points, 6.9 rebounds per play-off contest), Aaron Gordon's defence, rebounding and clutch shooting and the three point shooting wizardry of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have aided Denver' cause greatly.

In fact, don't be surprised if these very good but less than superstar performers have more to say about who wins the NBA title than Jokic, Murray or Butler.

Contact Wiggins' World at davwigg@gmail.com

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