If you had these two teams in the NBA Finals before the season, let me know, so you can start writing these. We should all be taking betting advice from you, instead. Chances are you didn’t, so let’s take a walk through this matchup together and trust the numbers. It’s our best shot to make sense of what’s been a shocking/incredibly fun NBA Playoffs.
NBA Finals Betting Preview
Offensive Rating: 25th in the league
Defensive Rating: 8th in the league
Net Rating: 20th in the league
Pace: 29th in the league
Offensive Rating: 5th in the league
Defensive Rating: 18th in the league
Net Rating: 7th in the league
Pace: 21st in the league
Looking at my favorite predictive stats, the Nuggets have the better team, in terms of overall output. They have the better offense by a larger margin. The Heat had one of the least efficient offenses in the league, and while they’ve been a different team in the playoffs, it’s the averages that tend to win out over the long-term. On the defensive side, the Heat are the better team, but there is a wide gulf in how much better the Nuggets are offensively, than how much better the Heat are defensively.
Health is also a critical factor. The entire Denver Nuggets rotational players are healthy. The Miami Heat are a different story. Victor Oladipo has been out the last few series and will miss this one. He would’ve provided a valuable scoring and defensive punch for about 20 MPG. Tyler Herro, the team’s most prolific perimeter scorer has been out the last couple series and is expected back in Game 3. I doubt he’ll be 100%. I doubt it will be a seamless integration, as rotations/subs will be adjusted. I also doubt that his stamina will be where it needs to be for him to play 25+ playoff minutes. A feat that will be even harder to achieve in the altitude of Denver.
Speaking of Denver’s high altitude, they have the home court advantage, so that’s a check in their box.
Best Player on the court: Nikola Jokic. I know “Playoff Jimmy” is the narrative around the sports world, but let’s take a look at the numbers. For Jimmy Butler (the Eastern Conference Finals MVP), he shot sub-50% from the field throughout the ECF, and only got to the line 5+ times in 3 of the 7 games. He’s underwhelmed since the 1st round, in my view. And while he has the capability to takeover a game, his role is constantly changing depending on what he’s getting from the rest of the Heat’s role players. Sometimes he’s a scorer. Sometimes he needs to be a defensive stopper. Sometimes he needs to step back and facilitate because Kyle Lowry is having a horrible game, and Gabe Vincent is the only other point guard. It’s a rough situation.
Nikola Jokic on the other hand has been excellent. Constantly excellent. He’s averaging a triple double and shot 71% from the field in Game 1 vs. the Lakers, while nearing 50% from the field (against Anthony Davis) in the three other games. He’ll matchup against Bam Adebayo this series, who is a much worse post defender than Anthony Davis. Bam’s defensive prowess comes from his switchability, not his ability to guard elite scoring centers. According to StatMuse, Nikola Jokic averages 22/11/7 vs. Bam for his career. That’s all in an average of 35 MPG. Jokic averaged 42 MPG in the WCF. Bam is going to be food. The only thing that the Heat will be able to control is how many assists Bam gets, because they’ll need the Nuggets’ role players to miss their shots to even have a chance.
All that said, let’s get into my favorite bets:
Series Winner: Nuggets in 4. I recognize that this is Denver’s first shot at the NBA Finals, but their team is too overpowering. They are better. They are rested. They are resilient. The Heat will have runs, because this is basketball, but over the course of the game, I can’t see a scenario where Denver doesn’t outmatch the Heat.
Series MVP: Nikola Jokic. Even in a world where Jamal Murray drops 40+ points in multiple games in this series, the MVP will go to the guy that averages a near triple double, if not a triple double all together. He should’ve won his third MVP this year, but the Finals MVP is a nice consolation.
Bet The Unders On Game Totals: We’re looking at two of the slowest paced teams in the league here. Denver’s offense goes through Jokic, who is a methodical, lumbering player. The Heat run a half-court offense through Jimmy, and have their most success when he gets to the line. There won’t be a lot of fast-breaks in this one, and the Heat’s best chance to win will be slowing things down and making it dirty.
Odd Prop Bet: If you can find Haywood Highsmith props, take the OVER. He was barely in the rotation during the regular season, but when the Heat needed to shake things up against Boston, they threw Highsmith in the game. And he delivered. He wasn’t scared of the moment, and also let opportunities come to him. Coach Spo trusts who he trusts and doesn’t let salaries decide his minutes (eg Duncan Robinson falling out of the rotation last year, and getting plenty minutes this year). I’m not going to act like this is a good bet, but it’s something I can see happening, so make sure you’re getting + odds on whatever line you choose (points, rebounds, threes, etc.)
Above all else, bet responsibly. Make sure you watch these games for fun. Let your betting complement your research, not tarnish your viewing experience. This series will be incredible, so don’t ruin it!