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2023 NBA Finals Preview: Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets

Heat Nuggets NBA Finals
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

2023 NBA Finals Preview: Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets

At last, the NBA Finals are here. The No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets will take on the Cinderella No. 8 seed Miami Heat for a chance at an NBA title. In the era of the superteam, it’s certainly a shock to see this matchup on the largest stage.

Miami lost both games in the regular season between the two teams. In fact, since 2016, this Nuggets-Heat matchup has resulted in 11 wins in 13 tries for the team out west.

It’s the Nuggets’ first-ever appearance in the NBA Finals in their 47-year history. They were the best team in the Western Conference this season and it showed in the playoffs. After dispatching the No. 8 Timberwolves in five games, it was onto Phoenix for the Nuggets.

Against a talented Suns team, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were too much to handle for the short-handed Suns, downing them in six. Awaiting Denver was the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets played staunch defense and had timely offense, which led them to steal all four games against the Lakers, sweeping their way into the Finals.

The Miami Heat have three NBA Championships, all since 2006. The 2023 Heat are the first-ever Play-In team to reach the NBA Finals. The Heat were three minutes away from elimination in that Play-In Tournament, before rallying to defeat the Chicago Bulls.

They shocked the world when Miami executed the Gentleman’s sweep against the Milwaukee Bucks. They next headed to New York to face a tough Knicks team in a raucous environment at Madison Square Garden. Miami took care of business in six games and didn’t lose a game at home.

The keynote series of these playoffs for Miami was the conference finals against the Boston Celtics. Given a three percent chance to advance to the NBA Finals, Miami had to scratch and claw their way against a very talented Celtics team. Head coach Erik Spoelstra came up with a great plan for the first three games of the series, and Jimmy Butler‘s all-world performance led to Miami leading 3-0, with their sights set on the Finals.

Boston would run off three straight wins, including on a Derrick White tip-in to win Game 6. Miami looked defeated on that night, but they were never deterred, slapping Boston during Game 7 to advance to the Finals.

The Nuggets’ biggest difference has been the fact that the ball is starting to roll their way. After losing Michael Porter Jr. in the 2021 Playoffs and Murray in the 2022 Playoffs, Denver is finally fully healthy and playing together. It has certainly been a chaotic journey for both of these teams, Miami in particular. After being extremely inconsistent during the regular season, the play of role players for Miami has been a big difference.

Starting Lineups + One Question

Due to the sweep of Los Angeles, the Nuggets have not played in 10 full days. This gives Denver a week and a half to get fully healthy. That means that they’ll run out basically the same rotation that they’ve had all year, led by Jokic, Murray, and Porter Jr. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been a sharpshooter in these playoffs, and has important Finals experience to provide for Denver. Aaron Gordon, who was big in Game 4 of the WCF, rounds out the starting five, playing the four. Bruce Brown is this team’s sixth man, with Jeff Green also providing minutes.

Others get some playing time, like Thomas Bryant and Christian Braun.

My biggest question for Denver will be if they can handle Miami’s 2-3 zone. Boston scored just 19 points on 34 possessions in Game 7 against that zone. Spoelstra drew it up perfectly to stop the Celtics, and they’re going to try and do it again. However, Jokic’s stature as a passing center is massive in this. Jokic could pick apart that zone with his passing, and Spoelstra knows that. So, which is going to break, the strong defensive zone of Miami, or the elite assisting of Jokic and the Nuggets?

Miami is led by Butler, who has been the superstar workhorse of this Miami team throughout the postseason. Expect Bam Adebayo to play almost every minute every night, as he’ll be matched up with Jokic, tasked to try and stop one of the best basketball players in the world.

The undrafted trio of Caleb Martin, Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent rounds out the starting five for Miami. It is truly unreal what these players have been able to do after ending up with Miami. Martin exploded with 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7 of the East Finals and nearly won ECF MVP. Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry also play significant minutes. Kevin Love played a lot against New York, but less against Boston.

The biggest question surrounding the Heat has to be Adebayo. It sucks that it all rests on the shoulders of one player, but you need to stop Jokic somehow. Adebayo has the best chance to do that. If he gets into foul trouble, Denver will attack and try to take advantage of him.

No one else on the Heat can actually guard Jokic besides Adebayo. On the offensive end, Adebayo is a huge facilitator that can take some of the load off of Butler. If Adebayo is on the court for 40 minutes a game, it gives Miami a much higher chance to win.

Betting Odds

The Nuggets are definitely the favorites in this series. Miami has been doubted by Vegas every step of the way, and that trend will continue into the NBA Finals. The Nuggets have -425 odds to raise the trophy, according to DraftKings. That translates to an implied probability to win the series of about 81% to win the series.

As for Game 1, the Nuggets are the favorites at home, entering the night with -360 odds. They are 8.5-point favorites.


Here is the schedule for the NBA Finals.

Game 1Thursday, June 1Ball Arena (Denver)8:30 pmABC
Game 2Sunday, June 4Ball Arena (Denver)8:00 pmABC
Game 3Wednesday, June 7Kaseya Center (Miami)8:30 pmABC
Game 4Friday, June 9Kaseya Center (Miami)8:30 pmABC
Game 5*Monday, June 12Ball Arena (Denver)8:30 pmABC
Game 6*Thursday, June 15Kaseya Center (Miami)8:30 pmABC
Game 7*Sunday, June 18Ball Arena (Denver)8:00 pmABC
*-if necessary


Nuggets In 7

The Nuggets are a really good basketball team, and Nikola Jokic is finally going to get what he deserves, which is an NBA title. I see this series being a battle for the first six games, with a lot of close basketball and good shooting. However, if the Heat doesn’t secure it in less than seven games, I can’t see Jokic and the Nuggets coming out flat in a one-game-wins-all. I think the Nuggets do enough to outlast Miami, as they are the more well-rested team.

I previewed the Heat vs. Knicks series and the Heat vs. Celtics series. Like everyone else, I picked the other teams to advance, not the Heat. They have proved me wrong time and time again. So hey, Heat fans, maybe I’m doing you a favor by picking Denver.

With that, the 2023 NBA Finals are here. Heat-Nuggets has a lot of intrigues, with two non-superteams battling it out. Which underrated star will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, winning their first-ever title?


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