Both teams bring unique strengths to the matchup, and also have weak points that their elite coaches in Erik Spoelstra (Heat) and Michael Malone (Nuggets) will look to exploit.
Let’s examine the series dynamics.
Limiting two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and star guard Jamal Murray will be paramount for the Miami Heat in their quest for their first championship since 2013.
Stifling Jimmy Butler and neutralizing Bam Adebayo’s versatile play will put onus on the Heat’s supporting cast to deliver, a key for the Nuggets.
Jokic’s dominance is unparalleled. His ability to make tough shots, facilitate the offense and control every tempo of the game put opponents in tough situations to compete.
But, if a center in the NBA could slow down the Joker, Adebayo is one. Unfortunately for the Heat, coach Erik Spoelstra does not have a robust depth chart at center to spell for Adebayo and slow down Jokic when the All-Defensive second team member sits.
Therefore, expect to see Adebayo play heavy minutes consistently. Will this take a toll on his offensive output? As for Murray, the Heat have a wealth of pesky defenders that can make life hell for him.
Butler has shown in previous playoffs that when necessary, he’ll take the opposing team’s best player, and do so at an elite level. Kyle Lowry won a championship off of his defense.
Murray will likely see more defenders than any other player in the series, also including Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and Max Strus off of switches or other defensive assignments.
On the flip side, Denver is equipped with lengthy wings that can bother Jimmy Butler’s shot. Michael Porter Jr., 6-10, and Aaron Gordon, 6-8, both have size advantages that will keep butler on his toes.
Pertaining to Adebayo, the All-Star big thrives in the open court, pushing the break and looking to make plays from 17 feet inward. But he and Butler’s reluctance to shoot from outside may work to their disadvantage if Denver’s first mode of defense proves effective.
Fortunately for Denver, they have two players in Porter Jr. and Gordon that can have big scoring games consistently. Is the same always true for Miami?
Lowry has been relegated to a bench role and has only breached double figures in seven of Miami’s 18 playoff games. Starting power forward Kevin Love has only done so twice.
The Heat rely on sharpshooters in Strus and Duncan Robinson to launch from outside, which he does as good as most other elite shooters in the league. While he’s scored in double figures 10 times, he’s only had four games with 15 or more points.
Vincent has been the most reliable third scorer for the Heat, scoring over 20 points on four occasions including his monstrous 29-point performance in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.
As a double-edged sword, Miami could have any of the aforementioned players, including others on their roster, step up in any given game.
On defense though, they’ll be busy keeping four scorers contained.
A wildcard is at play though...
Tyler Herro’s Availability
As of Monday night, NBA insider Chris Haynes reported on Twitter that Tyler Herro aims to return for the NBA Finals, saying:
Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (hand fracture) is ramping up workouts and is expected to make his return at some point during NBA Finals with Game 3 being the likely target, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 30, 2023
Though he played in 67 regular season games, of which he scored 20 or more points in 35 with a corresponding win-loss record of 15-20, his scoring off the bench would continue to tell a new story for the Heat, and give them another bonafide scorer that can change the complexion of the series as it currently stands.
By the Numbers
The Denver Nuggets are undefeated with six wins and no losses over the first two games of each of their first three playoff series’. They defend home court to perfection.
To their chagrin, the Miami Heat have successfully stolen one or more games as the road team in each of their playoff series’ first two games, including both against the Celtics who had the fourth-best home record in the league.
The Nuggets take care of the ball, having only committed 15 or more turnovers in one playoff game thus far. They won that game.
The Heat have committed 15-plus turnovers five times, losing three of those games. The trend suggests that turnovers are a major catalyst in Heat losses, yet both teams are capable of winning despite any sloppy play.
While both teams’ efficiency numbers from the field, three and free throw line are in the same ballpark, the Nuggets corral 10.5 offensive rebounds to the Heat’s 9.1.
This could prove to be a huge factor in the series.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com broke down the rest of the numbers to the series in great detail, among which the most eye-popping were:
“[The Nuggets] Are 10-0 when leading by double-digits, 3-3 when trailing by double-digits, and 7-3 (best in the playoffs) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
[The Nuggets] Have outscored their opponents by 125 points, the best mark for a Finals team through the first three rounds in the last five years.
[The Nuggets] Only team that hasn’t lost at home (8-0) in the playoffs. No team has ever won more than 10 playoff home games without a loss, with the four 10-0 teams (all champions) being the 1977 Blazers, the ’86 Celtics, the ’87 Lakers and the ’96 Bulls.
[The Heat] Best fourth-quarter team in the playoffs, outscoring their opponents by 16.3 points per 100 possessions in the fourth period.
[The Heat] Are 8-1 when leading by double-digits, 6-5 (only team with a winning record in these playoffs) when trailing by double-digits, and 6-3 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
They [The Heat] have four of the eight games in these playoffs (no other team has more than one) in which a team has shot 50% or better from 3-point range. They had only three such games in the regular season.