In an Eastern Conference Finals that defied logic, it was fitting that after blowing a 3-0 series lead, the Miami Heat blew out the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Monday night. In doing so, the Heat not only kept their name out of the history books by becoming the first of the 152 NBA teams who took a three-game lead in a best-of-seven series to lose that series, but they also become the second 8-seed to ever reach the NBA Finals. Now once again, the odds are against Miami in the Heat vs. Nuggets NBA Finals matchup.
The Denver Nuggets had a full week to watch the Eastern Conference Finals play out. It was a week ago Monday when Denver completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers to reach the franchise’s first-ever final. The experience factor is one area where Miami has the edge. While the Nuggets play in the NBA Finals for the first time, the Heat are in their seventh championship series since 2006 (most ever in that span) and second in four years.
Round: NBA Finals
Date: Thursday, June 1, 2023
Time: 8:30 p.m. on ABC
Location: Ball Arena (Denver, Colorado)
Heat vs. Nuggets Game 1 Best Odds
Miami Heat (44-38)
After being stymied by Boston’s defense since halftime of Game 4, the Heat locked down on Boston with a zone defense that kept Boston at just 21% from 3-point range. In addition, Jayson Tatum tweaked his ankle in the first minute of the game, rendering him less effective than usual. The Heat capitalized, taking a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter and cruising to a 103-84 victory. Jimmy Butler, who scored 28 points in the clincher, was named the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. It adds to an impressive resume that Butler has authored with the Heat over the past four seasons.
Caleb Martin had his second-straight 20 point-10 rebound performance after racking up 26 and 10, respectively, in Game 7. In more good news for Miami, it was reported after the game that Tyler Herro is on pace to return during the Finals. The Heat’s third-leading scorer during the regular season broke his hand in Game 1 of the first round against Milwaukee. Now, he’s reportedly going through shooting drills and could return in time for Game 3 of this series.
The Nuggets, the top seed in the Western Conference, rolled through their half of the bracket, going 12-3 and currently ride a six-game winning streak. Since emerging from Game 4 against Phoenix in the second round tied at two, Denver beat the Suns twice to eliminated Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and company. A sweep of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers followed.
Nikola Jokic was the league MVP in each of the prior two seasons and a finalist this year. He’s now staking his claim as the best current player in the NBA through this playoff run. Jokic has recorded eight triple-doubles in these playoffs, which broke the record of seven set by Wilt Chamberlain that stood for 56 years. A limited resume against Miami suggests that Jokic’s run will not stop in the Finals.
Along with Jokic, another key to the Nuggets’ run has been a healthy Jamal Murray. The two led Denver to the Western Conference Finals in the 2020 “bubble” playoffs. Murray was injured the past two playoffs, and the Nuggets failed to advance out of the first round. Now with Murray back and averaging 27.7 points this postseason, Denver picked up where they left off three postseasons ago.
Heat vs. Nuggets Game 1 Odds & Our Prediction
As impressive as this Heat run has been–let’s not discount that they made Milwaukee, the top-seed in the East, look silly in a first-round series win in five games–Denver has been lethal this postseason. The Nuggets came back to beat the Lakers in Game 4 and give LeBron James his first four-game sweep outside of the NBA Finals. The beating left James questioning whether or not he wants to continue his legendary career.
For the series, Denver is a -360 favorite. The New York Knicks were the other 8-seed to reach the NBA Finals. In 1999, they fell to the top-seed San Antonio Spurs in five games. Whether the Heat have the same fate is yet to be seen.
For Game 1, Miami is an 8.5-point underdog at most sportsbooks. The Heat traveled directly from Boston late Monday night to Denver for Thursday’s series opener. The Nuggets will have a 10-day layoff. For most of that time, it looked like Miami would be the opponent. While they would never admit it, you must wonder if Denver has been preparing more for Miami than Boston during the past week. While Miami certainly isn’t dead in the water, we see Game 1 going well for Denver.
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