Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler Credit: Bill Moore

After taking a commanding lead against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, on Monday night, the Miami Heat faced being the first NBA team in history to lose a best-of-seven series after leading 3-0. They avoided infamy with a tenacious performance in the elimination game on the road in Boston, defeating the Celtics 104-83 and now are in Denver to open the Finals versus the Western Conference champion Nuggets beginning tonight.

Following a dominant showing in the Western Conference playoffs, including their 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference championships led by series MVP Nikola Jokić, the Nuggets head into the Finals as the favorites. 

It is the franchise’s first ever appearance in the Finals.

The Nuggets hold home court advantage over the Heat after ending the regular season 53-39, the best record in the West and the third overall in the league behind the Milwaukee Bucks (58-24) and the Celtics (57-25). Jokic, a two-time league MVP (2021, 2022), who finished second in the voting this season to Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, have been the best tandem in the game during this postseason. The 7-foot Jokic averaged a dominant triple-double versus the Lakers scoring 29.9 points with 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists.

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The 6-4 Murray averaged 32.5 points per game against the Lakers and became the first player in NBA history to to average at least 30 points per game on shooting splits of at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-point attempts and 90 percent from the foul line. The Heat, which had a regular season record of 44-38, is only the second 8th seed – the New York Knicks in 1999 were the first – to reach the Finals.

They are led by forward Jimmy Butler, a five-time All-NBA selection, and forward/center Bam Adebayo, a two-time NBA All-Star and four-time All-NBA Defensive Team honoree. Miami has also been defined by its group of undrafted role players, notably small forward Caleb Martin, shooting guard/small forward Max Strus and point guard Gabe Vincent. They have been critical to the Heat’s success.

The Nuggets’ have also received strong contributions from players other than Jokic and Murray, including forwards Micheal Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, and guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. While the Heat will play with the intensity and heart that drove them to the Finals, the pick is the Nuggets in five. 

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