And just like that we are once again already in June and in the midst of the NBA Finals, wondering where in the heck half of 2023 went.

It seemed like yesterday when we were celebrating the new year and yes, Russell Westbrook was still a Laker.

The Lakers did manage to jettison Westbrook and come up with serviceable replacements to complement their dynamic duo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James and for a few months the new look Lakers looked pretty solid.

They even managed to eliminate the defending champs Golden State Warriors.

NUGGETS. But they ran head on into the juggernaut Denver Nuggets led by the dynamic Nikola Jokic and got unceremoniously swept in the Western Conference Finals.

How good is this team? Well, they are lengthy, young, fast and ably coached by Michael Malone. They play a fluid, almost position-less brand of basketball and all five of their starters can shoot from 3.

For a few years they were lurking around the Western conference as mere contenders. Now, they have arrived and with much aplomb.

HEAT. In the Eastern Conference, the improbable story of the rise of the Miami Heat was also unfolding.

Everyone in the mainstream media was talking about how far the Lakers have gone, having gone through the play-in, to find themselves in the Conference Finals.

Well then, they should have been more flabbergasted about the Heat who were actually the eighth-seeded team, which managed to eliminate the first seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the second-seeded Boston Celtics AND make it all the way to the NBA Finals.

Credit that to the hard-nosed, no-nonsense culture propagated by the Heat, ably epitomized by their current team leader — the mercurial Jimmy Butler.

You see, Butler doesn’t give a hoot if he’s playing with undrafted teammates. He doesn’t care if his drives and forays to the basket do not seem pretty at all. He doesn’t care if his opponent is a talented superstar. He’ll rip your heart out and feed it to you.

All he cares about is that you work hard and play with your heart. Unfortunately, despite all of Butler’s tremendous capacities, I predict that in this case, that will not be enough against the ultra-talented Nuggets.

JOKIC. This two-time MVP is on the cusp of superstardom and as of this writing is just three wins away from achieving that status.

Jokic’s rise to the zenith of the sport is quite interesting. He has always been consistently good and even though he became the league’s best player twice, some were even incredulous about that achievement.

You look at him lumbering down the court, shuffling his steps, seemingly inattentive and wonder how he can dominate a game so effortlessly. He’s not athletic at all and can be considered a defensive liability. But what he lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in his tremendous basketball IQ. He is deceptively quick, with a soft shooting touch.

He is also ably backed up by Jamal Murray, one of the top three point guards in the league, plus KCP, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., all top-tier two-way players and you have probably the best starting five in the league.

For those reasons, I predict the Nuggets will win in six games.

LAST ROUND. It’s on Florence Villarin-Go who recently celebrated a milestone.

Happy birthday and cheers!