NBA Finals Series Odds, Betting Preview: Nuggets vs. Heat Is More Lopsided Than It Looks

NBA Finals Series Odds, Betting Preview: Nuggets vs. Heat Is More Lopsided Than It Looks article feature image
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C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images. Pictured: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat boxes out Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets.

The NBA Finals are here at last, and suffice to say this is not the series matchup many were expecting.

The Denver Nuggets? They were the No. 1 seed, a juggernaut hiding in plain sight all season that made light work of the Western Conference.

The Miami Heat were the No. 8 seed, a few play-in minutes from missing the playoffs entirely, and had to upset the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference and outlast a possible 0-3 comeback from the Boston Celtics, but here they are. Few gave the Heat a chance even in the first round, and they were extreme long shots to make the Finals.

So can Miami continue this miracle run, do the impossible, and become the first No. 8 seed ever to win an NBA championship?

Don't count on it. Let’s take a look at the NBA Finals series odds and betting preview for Nuggets vs. Heat.

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Denver's Offense Is Elite, Can Miami Keep Up?

Miami gets full credit for getting this far, but there's no doubt they had some help along the way.

The Heat rode blazing shooting in both huge series upsets and got key injuries from the best player on each team in pivotal moments. It all counts the same, but that's important context to remember as they move forward against a fully healthy, rested Nuggets squad.

Denver's offense is a different animal entirely for Miami's defense. The Boston Celtics had the potential to be unstoppable when their 3-pointers were falling, but many have lamented the lack of any real scripted offense or flow, and we needn't get into the travesty that was the New York Knicks offense.

Denver's offense is another level entirely thanks to the genius of Nikola Jokic, who made clutch plays like this one seem routine all season:

When he's not passing, he can score even on the move. Plays like this could be jarring to Miami's system:

The Nuggets ranked second in Effective Field Goal Percentage in the regular season. The Heat defense ranked 26th in Opponent eFG%. The Nuggets were third best in 2-point percentage; the Heat were second worst.

The Nuggets' offense has been even better in the playoffs. They've improved in free-throw rate, turnover rate, and offensive rebounding. Five of the top six rotation players are at 59% True Shooting or better. The team's playoff Offensive Rating currently sits at 119.7, which would be an all-time NBA record in the regular season.

Miami's defense is not ready for this challenge, and Bam Adebayo has struggled mightily against Jokic historically. And the problem only exacerbates for Miami as they give shooters like Duncan Robinson or (eventually) Tyler Herro more minutes, chasing offense.

Denver's defense is flawed in many ways, but Miami doesn't have guys that pressure the rim well to take advantage of their biggest flaw. One thing the Nuggets do well defensively is limit opponent 3s. They rank top-3 in both 3s allowed and 3-point percentage allowed. They're allowing just 9.9 per game in the playoffs. Even limiting Miami 3-point volume could be a death knell for an offense that hasn't really improved much beyond just hitting a barrage of 3s.

The Heat are built to rain 3s and force turnovers. Denver has been specifically good at stopping both of those things from happening. Unless the Heat can win those two battles decisively, this could be quick work for the Nuggets.


Miami's Path to Win Is Very Narrow

Last round we backed Miami against Boston, even in a series where Boston was far better on paper, because the Heat had so many avenues to steal games. The path is much narrower against Denver.

Miami can win with hot shooting — but the Nuggets limit 3s, and Denver's offense will hang a consistent big number anyway.

The Heat can try to muck the game up and steal a game in the clutch — but Denver has a huge first quarter and first half advantage against Miami and has been just as good in second halves and in the clutch.

Erik Spoelstra can make magical coaching adjustments — but Michael Malone is excellent himself and nowhere near the mismatch Spo was the last three rounds. Denver is making its NBA Finals debut, but I wrote about why I don't see that as a problem either.

Denver is even better than Miami at home, 8-0 straight up in the playoffs and 42-7 for the year while the Heat went 17-24 on the road in the regular season with a negative Net Rating. And unlike against the Celtics coming off a Game 7 entering the Eastern Conference finals, Miami is the team with the rest and health deficit now, playing on the road in elevation.

Jimmy Butler can be the best player on the court — or can he?

Butler appears to be running on fumes and is laboring through that ankle injury, which he re-aggravated in Game 7.

Jimmy Butler winces as he steps on Derrick White's foot in the third 👀pic.twitter.com/E7BHl2Bdhe

— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 30, 2023

He does not look at all like he did early in the playoffs, repeatedly eschewing looks in the paint to pass back out. His scoring is down from 33.5 PPG the first eight playoff games to just 24 since. He only has a positive plus-minus in four of his last nine games.

Butler has still been good, impacting games with defense, rebounding, and passing, but nowhere near what he was in healthy, rested games earlier this postseason, and he can't touch Jokic's transcendent level of play. Maybe not even for a game, let alone the full series.

Denver will have the best player on the court, period. And that's a big problem for a Heat squad still playing mostly like a one-man team.

Bam Adebayo has not played like a star, and this is a terrible matchup against Jokic, a player he's struggled as much against as anyone in the NBA. Miami has no big man depth behind Adebayo with Kevin Love and Cody Zeller unplayable at times.

Jamal Murray has clearly been the brighter second star between these teams. He'll have moments this series where he's the second best player on the court, ahead of an injured Butler. That's lights out for Denver if it happens.

Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin are playing through twisted knee injuries and can't keep hitting 50% of their 3s forever. Victor Oladipo is still sidelined, and so is Tyler Herro until proven otherwise.

Again, the Heat get full credit for outlasting the Celtics, but they emptied the tank to do so. They are simply running out of bodies. They'll likely deserve to win a game and could steal a second, maybe even get to three, but four wins against a rested, superior opponent is a tall order.

I make Denver an 80% series favorite.


How I'm Betting Nuggets vs. Heat

I honestly think the Nuggets make quick work of the Heat. They're just much better, and the Heat look out of gas.

The Heat have been on the front foot all playoffs. They're the first team in NBA history to win each of their first three road Game 1s. But we saw how Game 1 went sideways for the Los Angeles Lakers against Denver last series. L.A. fell into a deep hole, struggled to chase, and Miami could soon be in a similar spot.

I already bet Denver in Game 1. It's a great spot for a rested team that's been outstanding at home and gets an exhausted Heat opponent coming off no rest or time to prep after a Game 7. Teams coming off Game 7 are now 33-53 SU (38%) since 1988 and 36-50 (42%) in the series. I'm not worried about rust for a team that's played together as long as these Nuggets.

I like Denver in five.

That's what my numbers make the most likely outcome, followed by Nuggets in seven, four or six — and then Heat in six, at 9%.

I'll bet Nuggets -1.5 series to -155. I don't see this Heat team on fumes pushing it to a Game 7.

I'll also play a series escalator. Give me Nuggets -2.5 series spread to +115, and I'll play the sweep too, though that's not my expected outcome.

I'll split my Nuggets bet with 50% of the bet at -1.5, 40% at -2.5, and 10% on the sweep.

Bets: Nuggets -1.5 series (-134 FanDuel) | Nuggets -2.5 series (+145 DraftKings) | Nuggets sweep (+600 Bet365)

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