Sean Keeler: ESPN’s Mark Jackson sounds ready to make peace with Nuggets fans after Nikola Jokic MVP backlash. Jeff Van Gundy, not so much.

Tribune Content Agency

DENVER — Nuggets fans, Mark Jackson sounds ready to bury the hatchet. Jeff Van Gundy, though?

Dude’s still got an ax he’d like to grind.

“I’ve had no issues at all (with Nuggets players and coaches) and I don’t expect any, other than one or two fans during one of the games in the Western Conference finals,” Jackson, the ESPN analyst, former Nuggets player and NBA coach revealed during a conference call Tuesday advancing the 2023 NBA Finals.

The 58-year-old, who played 52 games for the Nuggets during the 1996-97 season, incurred the wrath of Denver faithful earlier this month when he admitted to leaving two-time reigning NBA MVP and Mile High icon Nikola Jokic off his 2023 MVP ballot entirely.

Jackson on May 11 went to Twitter to admit the omission was an “honest mistake” and apologized. The Joker, who’d won the award in each of the previous two springs, wound up finishing a distant second in the voting to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, even though the Sombor Shuffler wound up two-tenths of a point from averaging a triple-double over the regular season. Jokic landed among the NBA’s top five in assists per game (9.8, third in the league and a new career high) to go along with 11.8 rebounds and 24.5 points per tilt.

In a twist straight out of an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Jackson’s been trapped in a loop of absolute cringe ever since he fessed up.

After watching Jokic and his Nuggets eliminate the favored Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals, Jackson and ESPN were on the call for the Western Finals vs. the Lakers, which was billed by the network as a coronation for LeBron James but turned into a national coming-out party for the Joker instead.

“Fortunately, out of the two people (who gave me grief), two men, one apologized on the way out. So nothing but class,” Jackson said of the Denver faithful.

“And I understand the quick comments or the (critical) comments, I’m fine with that.”

As for Van Gundy, his ESPN/ABC broadcast partner? Different story.

“Mark’s being kind to some of those (Nuggets) fans,” Van Gundy, a former NBA coach himself, opined Tuesday. “They were — some of those fans were clowns at the game.

“And like, it used to be when you say ‘I made a mistake,’ it just goes away.”

Like the Nuggets, the Denver-vs.-Disney narrative hasn’t quite gone away. Largely because ESPN personalities keep feeding the darn thing fresh meat.

Venerated sideline reporter Lisa Salters told The Rich Eisen Show a week after Jackson’s MVP snub of Jokic that the Phoenix series was “really the first time” she’d had a chance “to watch (the Joker) play, and I’ve got to admit, I have been sleeping on this guy. He is spectacular. He is ridiculously good.”

In her defense, Disney’s top NBA broadcasting crew have largely been strangers ‘round these parts.

Thanks to their first-ever Finals appearance, the Nuggets will be on ABC a minimum of four times over the next 10 days. That’s more than Denver’s been shown on the league’s ABC package during the last three regular seasons, combined, since November 2020 (three games).

Van Gundy rushed to Salters’ aid, too, noting that “somebody from ESPN innocently mentioned that Jokic was even better in person than (he looked from) watching at home. I mean, like, that (criticism is) just nonsense.

“I just — the whole stuff about the disrespect (card) … it’s tiring. We’ve all done it as coaches. And it means nothing.”

Not to Nuggets coach Michael Malone, though, who seems to gleefully twist the knife whenever he gets a chance. If Gov. Jared Polis can make a pitch to move Disney World to Mile High, surely Nuggets Nation and the Worldwide Leader can learn to let it go?

“You know, there’s a huge difference between correlation and causation,” Van Gundy said. “And I think sometimes, with all of it, we minimize exactly what coaches are there for.

“Michael Malone’s job is not to motivate Nikola Jokic. It’s to try to get the Denver Nuggets with the right habits, with the versatility that it takes, to go through four playoff series, to be able to win on offense and defense, (to) create a balanced team. That’s what he’s done.”