Strike 1: They say a series doesn’t really start until the road team wins a game. So now Denver vs. Phoenix is a best of three. It very well may come down to a decisive Game 7 at Ball Arena.

Game 7’s are the ultimate thrill for sports fans. Nuggets fans remember vividly watching on TV during the lockdown as the Nuggets scored a pair of remarkable Game 7 wins in the Orlando bubble in 2020, taking down both Utah and the LA Clippers before LeBron and the Lakers ended the magical run.

From 1984 up until 2003, the NBA first round series were best-of-five. So you could put those decisive Game 5’s in the same category as a Game 7. The Suns dramatic 129-124 win in Game 4 of this series came on the 28th Anniversary of one of the biggest playoff moments in Nuggets history, when eighth-seeded Denver recovered from a 0-2 series deficit to topple the top-seeded Seattle Supersonics in a decisive Game 5, this one on the road.

As far as the Mile High City hosting a deciding game? It’s only happened three times with the last one ending badly for the home team. Portland ended the Nuggets season in 2019 with a painful 100-96 upset victory. It happened the round before as well, when the Nuggets outlasted San Antonio in a round one Game 7. Prior to that, it was way back in 1978 when the Nuggets – in only their second season in the NBA – defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1978 Western Conference Semifinals in a Game 7 at McNichols Sports Arena. Denver would go on to lose to Seattle in the conference finals.

The Nuggets overall have played in seven Game 7’s, holding a 4-3 overall record. In Denver or not, a Game 7 is a toss-up.

Get ready for another, because all signs point to this series going the distance. At least the Nuggets should hope so.

Sure, winning at home in Game 5 and then being able to win one in Phoenix is the best case scenario. But after the display of offense we’ve seen from Phoenix in the last two games, it’s hard to see the Nuggets winning the series on the opposing floor. It’s far more likely that the two teams continue to hold serve and we get that Game 7 we’d all love to see.

Up until now, the Suns have been carrying the weight of expectations. Las Vegas made them the betting favorite immediately after the trade that brought Kevin Durant to the desert. After the Nuggets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, the Suns could have wilted. But by winning two on their home court, they’ve shifted the pressure back to Denver. And if the Nuggets fail to hold serve in Game 5, Phoenix will be on their way to the conference finals, just as Vegas predicted.

That means for the Nuggets, Game 5 may be more pressure packed than a possible Game 7. And if it goes that way, and Phoenix stays alive by winning Game 6, momentum will likely be wearing blue and orange.

How exciting can this get?

Strike 2: The fanatic would start boasting that the Colorado Rockies are postseason bound based on their recent hot streak, a streak that has seen them win three series against playoff caliber opponents during an 8-4 run. The realist knows it’s not going to happen like that. Nevertheless, there is something very positive happening at 20th and Blake.

It’s not just that the Rockies swept Milwaukee and captured road series in Cleveland and New York against the Mets. It’s how, or better yet, who, is fueling the improvement.

A wise man put it this way before the season: The Rockies don’t really know what they need (roster-wise) until they find out what they already have.

It was well known before the season that these Rockies – whether they’ll say the quiet part out loud or not – are in full scale rebuilding mode. But before the season, amidst all the hype surrounding minor league outfielder Zac Veen (who didn’t get off to a great start in Double-A Hartford but has come off the injured list to go 5-for-12 in his last three games) and shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (who is beginning to shine after a sluggish start) – the Rockies still went out and brought in a number of aging veterans to fill key positions, most notably Mike Moustakas and Jurickson Profar. They already have Charlie Blackmon, C.J. Cron, Kris Bryant and Daniel Bard. A team in rebuilding mode should not have one of the oldest rosters in MLB.

But that’s slowly changing. Starting with the release of starting pitcher Jose Urena, the badly needed youth movement is beginning, albeit very quietly. First was starting pitcher Noah Davis (who’s currently on the IL but had a nice start to his big league career.) Then came outfielder Brenton Doyle, who’s first MLB home run at Citi Field helped secure the series win over the Mets. Doyle has been a revelation in centerfield, a position the Rockies strongly considered sinking big free agent money into during the winter, but wisely didn’t.

The Rockies need a steady and consistent drip of youth injected into the roster over the course of the entire season. It can be gradual, and in a perfect world, will include trades that return youthful prospects, but it needs to be out with the old, and in with the new. There are still several prospects down on the farm that need their chance to be showcased at Coors Field this year so that a decision can be made on their future and the team’s. Michael Toglia, Nolan Jones and Gavin Hollowell to name a few. Pitcher Peter Lambert will finally have to show if he’s worth keeping. And since his demotion to Triple-A, Elehuris Montero has rediscovered his power stroke. He’ll be back.

The Rockies are finding out during this stretch of success that they don’t need to rely on aging vets to be competitive. And that’s the best news of all.

Strike 3: The uproar would have been a lot louder if Nikola Jokic hadn’t already won a pair of MVP Awards. Still, it’s irked a lot of Denver Nuggets fans that Philadelphia’s Joel Embid whined and campaigned his way to the 2023 MVP that should have gone to Joker.

Then there are some who even complained – and rightfully so – that head coach Michael Malone was not among the finalists for NBA Coach of the Year. Not many have done a better job than Malone this season. Nonetheless, Sacramento’s Mike Brown was the unanimous winner of the award, beating out finalists Mark Daigneault from Oklahoma City and Joe Mazzulla from Boston.

Here’s the rub: Typically a coach who does what Brown did – overachieves in a major way – gets the nod. And that’s fine. Daigneault can claim the same. But Mazzulla’s team was in the NBA Finals last year (with him as an assistant coach) so it’s pretty tough to say the Celtics overachieved.

Talk about moving the goalposts. If the criteria isn’t overachieving, then why was the guy who led his team to the best record in the West left off the list of the finalists?

Even if we can agree with Brown’s winning this year’s Coach of the Year, we should all have major issues with the way Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth was ignored in the Executive of the Year voting.

It’s tough to understand how the NBA’s executive award didn’t go to Booth, whose offseason maneuvering played a huge role in the Nuggets great regular season. Sometimes it’s easier to rebuild a roster than it is to tweak it in just the right way to make a good team great. Booth did just that. For his tremendous efforts, he finished a distant fourth in the voting.

That’s nonsense.

The love for the Kings continued in the Executive of the Year vote too, with GM Monte McNair making it a double play for Sacramento. Yes, you can make that argument. But the rest of the finalists? How does anyone defend the votes for Koby Altman of Cleveland – the Cavs had a good season, finishing fourth in the East – and most amazingly Utah’s Justin Zanik ahead of Booth? The Jazz finished eight games under .500 and well out of the playoffs after stripping down their roster last off season. Does it make a guy an award worthy executive to get a lottery pick? Are we giving platitudes to guys and teams that tank?

Zanik finishing ahead of Booth is patiently ridiculous.

Booth has done an excellent job in his first year as the top guy. Perhaps his reward is to come later.