5-at-10: Denver Nuggets, NBA champs, U.S. Open’s secret star, Braves bullpen blows it

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, center, celebrates after the team won the NBA Championship with a victory over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Monday, June 12, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

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Denver's moment

The best basketball player on the planet is a 7-foot Serbian who was a second-round project.

Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets to the NBA title, securing the franchise's first championship in Monday's Game 5.

Jokic and the Nuggets went 16-4 in these playoffs; only the Warriors with Kevin Durant, when they went 16-1 lost fewer games since the postseason went to best-of-seven series in every round.

Jokic also was the first player to lead a single postseason in points, rebounds and assists.

Yeah, he can play. And he lifted Denver to the title.

Is this a moment for hope across an NBA still filled with close to a third its franchises that have not won a title?

Is this an inspirational moment for the Nets, the Hawks, the Magic, the Thunder, the Clippers, the Hornets, the Grizzlies, the Pelicans, the Jazz and all the rest?

Or is it truly the testament that if you are going to break through that glass ceiling to a championship you have to theoretically hit the NBA draft PowerBall?

That's what Jokic was at 41, and he delivered Denver's first ring. That's what Giannis was, too — even at 15 overall — and he delivered a chip to Milwaukee this time last year.

It's also worth noting that the NBA rings will run through Denver for the foreseeable future.

The West is a mess. We know Denver is going to be good, and the Nuggets have been among the best when healthy.

But who knows what the Warriors will look like moving forward. Memphis had the 2 seed in the West in 2023, but has Ja Morant posted a Tony Montana tribute on social media yet today? No. But hey, the day ain't over yet. The Lakers are old. The Suns are top heavy and have major roster decisions ahead. The Clippers are injury prone.

Sure, the top three in the East are good, but who knows how free agency will impact the 76ers, who have a decision to make on James Harden's future, or Milwaukee, where Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez could be headed to free agency.

As for Boston? Well until Jayson Tatum is ready to go from great talent and become a dude, the Celtics are doomed to be a bridesmaid — at best.

Now look at the Nuggets. Jamal Murray is only 26, and he proved to be a super Robin to 28-year-old Jokic's Batman. The entire core is under contract through 2024.

Plus, when teams show the ability to capture a ring and the commitment to add to that trophy case collection, veteran players desperate to contend will be open to joining that pursuit.

Denver Nuggets, NBA champs.

Who knew? (And yes, they are already the betting favorite to win it next year, too.)

Open — and closed

So the U.S. Open is headed to Los Angeles Country Club, and believe it or not, it may be more secretive, more exclusive and more difficult to play than even Augusta National.

By all accounts, LACC — which is well over 100 years old and was built long before Hollywood became the mecca of celebrity — is the place that Groucho Marx famously quipped, "Why would i want to join a club that would have me as a member" after getting turned down for membership.

LACC has long held a "no movie star" rule, and even told A-list names from Bing Crosby to Hugh Hefner — each lived in house, including the Playboy Mansion, that were on the course — thanks but no.

Heck, the story goes, according to The Athletic, that a Texas oil baron named Frank Rosenberg applied to LACC in the 1920s but they turned him down because his name sounded Jewish. He was not Jewish mind you, but he sounded Jewish. So there's that.

But the secrecy and the unknown of a course of this magnitude and magnificence is exciting.

Sure, U.S. Opens are always harder than they need to be, some self-important dog-and-pony-show mandate from USGA stuffed suits to make par a good score can easily become a mixture between hitting balls into a parking lot or putting on No. 3 at Sir Goony's.

And the regular locales for the U.S. Open are shrines to the game, but we have all seen the beauty and the bear claws of Pebble and Medina and Oakmont and all the rest plenty of times.

The Los Angeles Country Club, however, is making its grand entrance on the game's grandest stage. Not unlike The Honors in Ooltewah, LACC has told the USGA multiple times, "Yeah, hold your little tournament somewhere else, we're good," which is a testament to the grounds and their gumption.

But after being refurbished and restored in the 2000s, LACC is ready to meet the world.

And in a golf setting where all the personal and business drama has the chance to feel like a Scorsese production, where better than Hollywood to make this kind of debut.


So the Braves broke bad — and battered my bankroll — with a Monday night debacle in Detroit.

Charlie Morton pitched well enough to win. The Braves bats produced five runs and one of the NL's best team took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning against a Detroit team that had not won in the month of June.

And then the Braves bullpen said, "Yeah, hold my beer."

Nick Anderson allowed three hits and an earned run in the eighth, and then closer/rally igniter Raisel Iglesias delivered gifts to all the hitters he's loved before (you there Spy?) and was battered around Tigers Stadium like Parrish, Trammell, Whitaker and Evans were in their prime.

Iglesias' ninth-inning line: three outs recorded, five hits (including a homer) and three earned runs allowed. He turned a 5-2 dunk into a 6-5 extra inning loss.

The Braves lineup is amazing, and that's with Matt Olson striking out more than Screech Powers did with Lisa Turtle.

But if last night can happen against a Tigers team that will be eliminated before high school football starts, then Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves front office have some work to do.

This and that

— Speaking of the U.S. Open, the tee times are out, and while the USGA has a slight sense of humor, they avoided the "Mickelson-McIlroy" pairing, which is probably for the best. Rory will play with Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama in rounds 1 and 2, and Brooks took the nine-figure LIV bonus, while Rory and Hideki declined the insane Saudi signing bonuses.

— Other notable tee times this week include the pairing of Jon Rahm with Colin Xander Schauffle and Viktor Hovland as well as Scottie Scheffler playing with Colin Morikawa and Max Homa. Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay are also playing together, and considering how slow Cantlay plays, they may finish sometime next Tuesday. Former Baylor School star Luke List is in the U.S. Open this week and will tee off at 3:48 p.m. Thursday with Wilco Nienaber and Alejandro Del Rey. I think Wilco won the Red Bud at Creeks Bend a few years back, or maybe I am getting confused with someone else. Keith Mitchell, another former Baylor School star, is in a group that has a bona fide big-timer, as Keith will be in the 4:32 p.m. trio Thursday — going out one group before Finau, Jordan and Cantlay — with Dustin Johnson and Sam Burns. Harris English, yet another Baylor School alum in the Open, will start on 10 at 10:29 a.m. Thursday with Adrian Meronk and Joaquin Niemann.

— Speaking of baseball, and we may have more on this later this week, but man, what kind of contract year is Shohei Ohtani having right now. He went deep twice last night and imagine what Shohei the hitter would command on the open market since he's slashing .291/.362/.593 with 20 homers, 50 RBIs and 42 runs scored. He's on pace to hit close to 50 homers. Now add in Shohei the pitcher, who is 5-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 102 Ks in 75 innings pitched.

— Actor Treat Williams was killed in a motorcycle crash. He was 71.

— Maybe the most important — and singularly talented — player to ever enter the portal, Jordy Bell transferring. The soon-to-be-former Oklahoma softball pitcher was the most outstanding player at the WCWS as Oklahoma capped its amazing season. Bell, a two-time All-American, pitched 24.2 scoreless innings at the WCWS, allowing just 12 hits. She went 22-1 with an 0.90 ERA in 2023.

— Tennessee baseball made it's way to Omaha with a win at Southern Miss on Monday.

Today's questions

True or false, it's Tuesday. Morning, Ernie.

True or false, you never thought the phrase "Denver Nuggets, NBA champ" would be accurate.

True or false, Nikola Jokic is the best Denver Nuggets player ever.

True or false, there are no more than five players currently playing for an NBA, MLB or NFL team that can say they are the "best player in franchise history."

True or false, we want (and need) a Rory-Phil pairing this weekend.

True or false, we want (and need) Phil pulling up a seat next to Brandel Chamblee on the Golf Channel dias this week.

True or false, Shohei Ohtani is about to sign the richest contract in team sports history.

You know the drill, answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.

As for today, June 13, let's review.

On this day in 2015, floods killed 12, opened up the zoo to let bears, lions and hippos roam the city in Tbilisi, Georgia, which I am pretty sure is south of Macon but north of Tifton.

Ashley Olson is 37 today. Not sure how old sister Mary Kate is. Man, anyone else feel old that babies from "Full House" are 37?

Tim Allen is 70 today. If I offered a Rushmore of TV sitcoms centered on stand-up comedians (and their routines), "Home Improvement" makes it, right?