The 2023 NBA Finals matchup is finally set, with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the steady-rocking Nuggets taking on Jimmy Butler and his fierce underdog Heat. Denver will host Game 1 at Ball Arena on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC), with the West’s No. 1 seed currently favored by a whopping 8.5 points.
These teams took polar-opposite paths to get to this point. Miami had to play two games in the NBA Play-In Tournament just to sneak into the playoffs through the backdoor after defeating the 10th-seeded Bulls. Erik Spoelstra’s squad then took care of a banged-up Bucks in five, a scrappy-but-undermanned Knicks in six, and just won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against a wobbly Celtics.
Just writing that made me tired. Now look at Denver, the top seed in the West. Mike Malone’s squad served up the gentleman’s sweep to a dysfunctional Wolves team, then beat the Chris Paul-less Suns in six before sweeping LeBron James and the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Fifteen games — quick, clean, painless. These Nuggets are like hitmen.
As we have come to expect from him at this point, Jokic has been extraordinary during this playoff run. His superb vision, monstrous rebounding, and offensive versatility make him almost impossible to contain, never mind conquer. When Jamal Murray gets cooking, as he did in the 2020 bubble and this year’s Western Conference Finals, and the “others” on this well-constructed roster start heating up, Denver looks like a wrecking ball.
However, as we have seen all postseason, Jimmy Butler is not an easy guy to take down. The Eastern Conference Finals MVP averaged 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 2.6 steals in a hair under 40 minutes per game against the Celtics. In addition, Caleb Martin has gone from under-the-radar role player to championship x-factor. His counting stats were all lower (19.3/6.4/1.7/0.9) than Butler’s in the ECF, but his ice-in-the-veins offense saved the Heat on multiple occasions. He averaged 21 ppg across Miami’s four wins and finished the ECF with shooting percentages of 60/49/88.
Will the well-rested Nuggets hold court in Game 1 and knock off a tired Heat squad, or will Miami carry over its momentum from the Eastern Conference Finals and strike the first blow of the 2023 NBA Finals? Let’s dive into the odds for the Thursday night opener of this championship-round clash and unveil our best bets and favorite SuperDraft props.
Nuggets vs. Heat Game 1 odds, picks, and predictions
- Spread: Nuggets -8.5 (-115) | Heat +8.5 (-105)
- Total: OVER 219.5 (-110) | UNDER 219.5 (-110)
- Moneyline: Nuggets -375 | Heat +290
Oddsmakers clearly aren’t worried about Jokic and company suffering from any rust, as the well-rested Nuggets are hovering close to double-digit Game 1 favorites. This comes as no surprise considering Denver has gone an NBA-best 42-7 (.857 winning percentage) at Ball Arena since the start of the 2022-23 NBA season. Only the Warriors maintained a better home cover rate than the Nugs at 62.5 percent.
But the Heat are no strangers to the underdog role. Miami has been listed as an underdog in 14 of its 18 games during the playoffs, coming out with a 9-5 record straight up and an 11-3 record against the spread. If you count Butler, Martin, and perennial All-Defensive big Bam Adebayo out of any slugfest, they will punch you in the mouth and keep swinging until the final bell.
Of course, nobody fights better and with more effortless persistence than Jokic. Since the big Serbian started taking over the NBA, opponents have tried scratching, clawing, and smashing the Joker to no avail. He never stops, whether it be finding the open man, hitting the clutch shot at the end of a shot clock, or grabbing multiple offensive boards in a row. He’s a matchup nightmare in every sense of the term.
Adebayo is surely losing some sleep right now thinking about defending the big man. Jokic averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in two games against Miami this season and 23.5/15/8.5 against the Heat in 2021-22. He has beaten Bam on the block and the boards, forcing Spoelstra to throw out a bunch of different defensive schemes to simply try to contain Joker. Nothing has worked.
Since the start of the 2020-21 season, Denver has gone a perfect 6-0 against the Heat. Dating back to ’17, the Nuggets are 12-2 against Miami. Across the 10 meetings in which these two teams have met since January ’19, Denver has gone 9-1 straight up and against the spread. All-out dominance.
You can follow your rust-rest narratives or back the bullish underdogs all you want — we just don’t see a scenario where the Nuggets, a dominant home team with 10 days of rest, come out and lay an egg in Game 1. Denver went an NBA-best 18-4 SU and 14-7-1 ATS with rest advantage and dominated at Ball Arena all year.
The NBA will be doing victory dances if Miami gets two wins in this entire series, but we will be shocked if the Heat pull off a Game 1 upset after just going 12 rounds (or rather seven games) with the Celtics. Give us the chalk with the OVER. These two squads have hit the OVER in five consecutive meetings, with Denver posting 120-plus three times and not dipping below 112 once.
Prediction: Nuggets 120, Heat 108. The Nuggets (-8.5) cover the spread, with the game going OVER the total (219.5)
Best SuperDraft player prop bet for Nuggets vs. Heat: Jimmy Butler OVER 7.5 rebounds
With top Heat rebounder Adebayo set to battle Jokic down low all series, it will be imperative for Butler to continue to crash the boards for Miami to have any shot this series. The Joker regularly pulls down double-digit boards against the Heat, so we have Butler clearing eight rebounds for the fifth time in his past seven postseason starts.
Other Nuggets-Heat SuperDraft props we like: Nikola Jokic OVER 27.5 points, Nikola Jokic OVER 10 assists, Bam Adebayo UNDER 29.5 points + rebounds + assists