NBA Odds, Picks: Anderson’s Bets for Nuggets vs Heat Game 1

NBA Odds, Picks: Anderson’s Bets for Nuggets vs Heat Game 1 article feature image

AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post. Pictured: Aaron Gordon (50), Jamal Murray (27) and Michael Porter Jr. (1) of the Denver Nuggets.

  • The Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets play Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night.
  • Brandon Anderson has several angles for tonight's matchup, including the full-game spread, and a player prop.
  • Check out his NBA Finals picks and predictions for Heat vs. Nuggets Game 1.

Heat vs. Nuggets Odds

8:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Nuggets -8.5 | Total: 219

We finally made it to the 2023 NBA Finals, and it's the ultimate David vs. Goliath.

The Denver Nuggets are Goliath, a behemoth out West. The 1-seed that plowed through the conference with dazzling displays of record-setting offense built around Nikola Jokic, the best basketball player on the planet.

Denver is a huge favorite, but this Goliath is eminently likeable. Jokic is the best passing big man ever, Jamal Murray is a breakout playoff star, and role players like Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown are having their moment.

And then there's the David no one expected to be here. The Miami Heat almost missed the playoffs entirely. They staved off elimination in the final minutes of the play-in and haven't been near elimination since.

The Heat knocked off three of the league's Goliaths in Milwaukee, Boston, and New York, winners of 33 combined championships.

Now, the Heat are underdogs once more. Jimmy Butler and his merry band of undrafted teammates, up against the world.

This is what sports are all about. So will the favorites prevail, or does David have one more stone in his slingshot? Let's take a look at Nuggets vs. Heat Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

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The Nuggets Are Heavy Series Favorites for a Reason

I wrote a full NBA Finals series preview, but let's give a quick recap since it sets the tone for Game 1.

I love the Nuggets.

Denver's offense is too good and too efficient for a Miami defense that hasn't been good enough all year. Bam Adebayo has struggled against Jokic historically, and Denver has cut down its turnovers, which should snub a key Heat strength. The Nuggets also limit 3s, neutering another Miami strength and the key tenet of a relatively lackluster offense.

The strengths that have propelled Miami in these upsets — superior coaching, red hot shooting, second-half comebacks, and the ability to have the best player on the court in Jimmy Butler — are all countered mostly or fully by Denver.

The path to a Miami series victory is very narrow, and it starts with a very tough situational spot in Game 1.

Denver Will Ride a Great Situational Spot to a Home Game 1 Victory

While I love the Nuggets for the series, the Game 1 play is as much of a situational spot as anything.

Denver has a huge home court advantage in this series. The Nuggets are unbeaten at home in the playoffs (8-0) and are 42-7 at home on the season with one of the greatest home advantages in all of North American sports.

Miami went just 17-24 on the road in the regular season. The Heat had a negative Net Rating on the road, a huge drop from +8.5 at home.

Part of Denver's home advantage is the elevation, which is especially difficult on opponents not used to the thinner air. That could be an especially devastating advantage against an exhausted Miami squad that's short on bodies and coming off a long, grueling seven-game series.

We fade teams coming off Game 7.

Per Raheem Palmer, teams coming off a Game 7 are an awful 33-53 SU, winning just 38% of the following Game 1s since 1988. Those same teams are 36-50 (42%) in the series. These teams are exhausted both physically and mentally, with little time to rest or recover before Game 1.

It's not just a physical disadvantage. Miami will have precious little time to prepare for an entirely new opponent, and that could be devastating. The Heat just spent the past month facing a Celtics offense stuck in mud chucking 3s and a terrible Knicks offense. This Denver machine is something else entirely and may be jarring to Miami's system.

Historically in the NBA Finals, it's been very profitable to back the home favorite in Game 1.

Per Evan Abrams, Game 1 favorites since 1996 are 23-4 SU (85%) and 19-8 ATS (70%). Since 2005, they've been nearly untouchable at 16-2 SU (89%) and 15-3 ATS (83%).

I grabbed Nuggets -8 for multiple units at open in the app, and I'm not intimidated by -8.5 or as high as -9.5 if needed.

Expect the Nuggets to set the tone early, take control, and go up 1-0 against an inferior opponent.

Bet: Nuggets -8.5 (DraftKings)

When You Like the Nuggets, Bet Them Early

You've watched enough Heat basketball since the NBA Bubble to know this team's modus operandi: the Heat are a second-half team.

Miami's playoff Net Rating splits speak for themselves:

  • 2020: -3.1 (first half), +7.4 (second half)
  • 2022: +0.3 (first half), +7.3 (second half)
  • 2023: +1.1 (first half), +7.9 (second half)

The Heat play rope-a-dope with their opponent, mucking the game up and trying to slow it down and hang around long enough to make a second-half push. They're not a great first half team, and the splits are even worse on the road at -7.0 Net Rating this postseason.

Only one team is as good in second halves as Miami this postseason: the Nuggets.

Denver has been brilliant in the clutch all year, with Jokic as reliable as anyone when games are close. Miami may not get that usual second-half push.

And unlike the Heat, the Nuggets are brilliant early. Denver is +8.5 Net Rating in the first half, including +14.3 at home. The Nuggets are also +11.8 in just the first quarter. This is a team comes out focused and forces opponents to adjust and react.

I'm not worried about rust. These Nuggets have played together for years, and nothing solves rust quite like a basketball genius in Jokic. Denver has been resting and preparing for an extra week while Miami was stacking up multiple injuries and extra games of attrition.

We'll get some long spreads in Denver's home games this series. The numbers say if we like the Nuggets, we should back them early.

I'll stay away from the first quarter in case there's just a touch of rust, but I'll play the first half.

Bet: Nuggets 1H -4.5 (PointsBet)

Jimmy Butler Has Proven He's Elite, But He's Playing Hurt and Running on Fumes

The Heat have won with team basketball, but there's little question that this team has one superstar.

Jimmy Butler has proved his name belongs with the game's elite, but I just don't think Butler looks right. He's unwilling to attack the basket with his usual relentlessness, instead opting to pull up in the paint or pass.

I honestly don't know why we don't talk about Jimmy Butler more.

Arguably a top 5 player since the NBA Bubble and we somehow left him off the All-Star team two of the three years.

Jokic, Giannis, Embiid excluded, here's Jimmy G. Buckets vs the rest of the field last 3 years.

— Brandon Anderson (@wheatonbrando) April 16, 2023

Butler averaged 33.5 PPG over the first eight playoff games, but his scoring has fallen to just 24.0 over the past nine games.

Butler is relying heavily on free throws to get his points, and Denver does a pretty good job not fouling and just had a lot of practice doing just that against Kevin Durant and the Suns, then LeBron James and the Lakers.

I like Butler to go under 27.5 points. He's done that in six of his past nine games and was one bucket away from going under in two more. He's averaging 22.2 PPG in Miami losses this postseason, so if you like Denver to win, this makes for a nice SGP pairing.

If you want a fun long shot series angle, I expect Miami to try to turn Jokic into a scorer, while I will be eyeing Butler unders all series. Jokic is +2200 to outscore Butler every game this series at Caesars. That's one of my favorite series props since I like Denver to win a short series, which limits games and correlates to poor Butler scoring games.

I'll stay away from other props and use Game 1 to learn. There will be more to bet later.

Bet: Jimmy Butler under 27.5 points (FanDuel)

Pick: Jimmy Butler Under 27.5 Points

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Anderson's Game 1 Betting Card

  • Nuggets -8.5
  • Nuggets 1H -4.5
  • Butler under 27.5 points

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