The No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets have swept the Los Angeles Lakers to advance to their first-ever NBA Finals. On the other side, the No. 8 Miami Heat are fresh off eliminating the Boston Celtics, earning their seventh trip to the Finals since 2006-more than any other team over that span.
Perhaps it is not the championship matchup that the television networks or marketing departments lusted for, but Heat-Nuggets should make for physical NBA Finals. As viewers and bettors alike, we can only hope the officiating crew lets the players mix it up some.
With Game 1 of the 2023 Finals set for Thursday night at Denver's Ball Arena, the Nuggets enter as the heavy favorite to win the title at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Nuggets vs. Heat predictions
Odds to win series: Nuggets -400, Heat +310
Regular season record: Nuggets 53-29, Heat 44-38
Head-to-head record: 2-0 Nuggets
Last season, the Heat and Nuggets produced one of the year's most viral moments when Nikola Jokic knocked Markieff Morris to the ground at center court. Morris is no longer with Miami, but some of the Heat's stars – such as Jimmy Butler – took exception to Jokic's bull rush. The Nuggets eventually won that game, taking the 2021-22 regular season series 2-0.
In 2022-23, Denver took both games against the Heat for the third straight season. Back on December 30, the Nuggets and Heat battled late into the fourth quarter before a clutch three-pointer from Jamal Murray put Denver on the winning side 124-119. In the second meeting of this past season, Denver again held off a late surge from the Heat, winning in Miami by a score of 112-108. Jokic led all scorers with 27 points that day.
Miami has not defeated the Nuggets since bubble-play in 2020.
Pick: Nuggets in 6 games
Although most around the nation likely wanted to see Lakers vs. Celtics in the 2023 NBA Finals for what would have been a record 13th occurrence in NBA history, I am quite enthralled that the Nuggets and Heat are the sides that made it through. Denver and Miami have had drastically different paths to this point, but this matchup should bring the boom.
The Nuggets have still not lost a game at home this postseason in eight contests. Naturally, the “Mile High” advantage of playing games at 5,280 feet has long been one of the toughest aspect for opponents in Denver. The Nuggets were 34-7 at Ball Arena this past season, which was the best mark in the league at home. Denver has homecourt advantage for the Finals.
The Heat have proven series after series that they are not some statistic to be written off. Coming all the way back from losing the opening play-in game at Atlanta, Miami was nearly bounced by Chicago in the second play-in game. Yet, the Heat rallied to stave off elimination and haven't looked back since. Through scrappy postseason tilts with Milwaukee, New York and Boston this year, the Heat have done well to go 6-4 in road games-but can they win in Denver?
Before the matchup with New York, I felt good about Miami's chances to get to this point given the competition in the Eastern Conference. Now that the moment has come to fruition, I genuinely think the Heat's “white hot” run ends here. At the moment, Denver seems to be too big, too athletic and simply playing too well to be stopped. I see the Nuggets hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy after six games, bringing home their first NBA title.