The Nuggets and Heat took opposite paths to the NBA Finals.

Denver won the West for the first time ever as the No. 1 seed while Miami emerged from the East as the No. 8 seed after an appearance in the play-in tournament. The Western Conference Finals were over quickly, as the Nuggets swept the Lakers to clinch their championship berth. The Eastern Conference Finals, however, went the distance and the Heat ultimately blew out the Celtics on the road in Game 7.

Miami has been in the underdog role throughout the postseason and continually pulled off upset after upset. This series will be no different: Denver is a heavy favorite to win it all. The Nuggets are -480 to win the Finals and the Heat are available at +330 odds.

No. 8 Miami Heat vs. No. 1 Denver Nuggets

Series Price: Heat (+330) | Nuggets (-480)
Series Spread: Heat +1.5 (+134) | Nuggets -1.5 (-164)

Game 1 (at Denver): Thursday, June 1 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 2 (at Denver): Sunday, June 4 | 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 3 (at Miami): Wednesday, June 7 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 4 (at Miami): Friday, June 9 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 5 (at Denver): Monday, June 12 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)*
Game 6 (at Miami): Thursday, June 15 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)*
Game 7 (at Denver): Sunday, June 18 | 8 p.m. ET (ABC)*
(*If necessary.)

Accordingly, Nikola Jokić is the favorite at SI Sportsbook to win Finals MVP at -345. Jimmy Butler has the next-best odds at +320 and then there’s a big drop-off to Jamal Murray (+900) and then an even larger jump to Bam Adebayo (+2500). Jokić and Butler both won their respective conference finals MVP awards.

2023 NBA Finals MVP Odds

Nikola Jokić -345
Jimmy Butler +320
Jamal Murray +900
Bam Adebayo +2500
Caleb Martin +5000
Michael Porter Jr. +10000
Bruce Brown +20000
Gabe Vincent +20000
Max Strus +20000

The Nuggets have gotten the best of the Heat in recent years, having won the last six meetings between the two teams. They last lost to the Heat on Aug. 1, 2020 and won 124-119 in Denver in late December and 112-108 in Miami in mid-February.

Home court advantage could prove to be pivotal in the series. The Nuggets are 8–0 at Ball Arena in the playoffs and 5–3 against the spread. They went 34–7 in the Mile High City during the regular season, the second-best home mark in the NBA. For their part, the Heat have gone 6–4 straight up on the road in the 2023 playoffs and 7–3 against the spread. Miami also has stolen all three series openers on the road so far. Denver is an 8.5-point favorite for Game 1 on Thursday.

The Nuggets eliminated the Timberwolves in five games, sent the Suns home in six and then swept Los Angeles to set up its Finals matchup with Miami. Led by Jokić, who averages a triple double in the playoffs, they own the best offensive rating (119.7) and net rating (+8) in the postseason. Coach Michael Malone has an ideal combination of top-end talent and depth that’s turned his team into a juggernaut.

Murray lit up the Lakers for 32.5 points per game on 53/41/95 shooting splits and put on a shotmaking display that was reminiscent of his run in the bubble. Michael Porter Jr., a career 42% three-point shooter, stretches the floor and always seems to get open looks with so many willing facilitators for Denver. He’s also a good complementary rebounder to Jokić, whose 13.3 rebounding average is second-best in the playoffs.

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Aaron GordonBruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all chip in double-digit scoring averages (Brown as the sixth man) and Malone occasionally calls on veteran Jeff Green and rookie Christian Braun to round out the rotation.

Brutal efficiency is the Nuggets’ method of attack. They commit the fewest turnovers (10.3) in the playoffs, average the third-most assists (25.9) and rank second in field-goal percentage (49) and three-point percentage (38.6). Denver has also stepped up its defense in the postseason, which was a point of concern for much of the year.

The Heat upset the Finals-favorite Bucks in five games in the first round, got past the Knicks in six and then built a 3–0 lead on the Celtics in the conference finals. Boston stormed back to draw even at three games apiece before Miami slammed the door on the comeback with a decisive 103-84 win in Game 7. Almost this entire run has taken place without Tyler Herro, a 20 points per game scorer who broke his hand in Game 1 of the Milwaukee series and hasn’t played since. He’s expected to be back for the Finals and is reportedly targeting a Game 3 return.

With Herro out, coach Erik Spoelstra has gotten contributions from all over. Martin was sensational in the Celtics series — he averaged a hair under 20 points across seven games and went for 26 points and 10 boards in the decisive game. Gabe Vincent is a steadying presence at point guard and his importance was perhaps most glaring when he missed Game 5 and the Heat coughed up 16 turnovers. Duncan Robinson, whose minutes were slashed in the regular season, is shooting a blistering 45% from deep and is creating offense from inside the arc as well.

Of course, Butler is the heart of the team and he showed up in a big way for Game 7 with 28 points after a few passive performances. His running mate, Bam Adebayo, had some up and down games on offense but he’s been Miami’s anchor on defense, a unit that frequently gives opponents fits, especially when it plays zone.

Max StrusKyle Lowry and Kevin Love complete the rest of the regular rotation, though Spoelstra will occasionally play Haywood Highsmith and Cody Zeller as well. The Heat may have to employ larger lineups to counter Jokić’s sheer size.

Miami was the lowest-scoring team in the league in the regular season (109.5), but that average is up to 111.7 in the playoffs in large part due to the team’s postseason-best 39% average from outside.

A No. 8 seed has never won the NBA Finals before and only one other No. 8 seed (the 1999 Knicks) has ever made it to this stage. The expectation is for the Nuggets to beat the Heat and raise their first championship banner. But each of Miami’s three playoff opponents has been projected to do the same and none has done so yet. That’s why they play the games.

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