How the Denver Nuggets can beat the Miami Heat for an NBA title

May 30, 2023, 6:56 AM | Updated: 7:02 am

Nikola Jokic, Bam...

Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup in Miami, the Denver Broncos won their second Super Bowl in Miami, the CU Buffs won a National Championship in Miami. Now it’s the Denver Nuggets turn as they’ll face the Miami Heat, seeking the first title in franchise history.

This is the Heat’s second trip to the Finals in the past four seasons, both led by Jimmy Butler. Had Denver beaten Los Angeles in 2020, we would’ve seen these two squads square off in the Finals. But a few years later we’re getting the matchup.

There aren’t many connection points between Miami and Denver as NBA teams and the Nuggets have beaten the Heat six-straight times in the regular season.


The Miami Heat fought their butts off to even make the playoffs, losing their first play-in game the being down late in the fourth quarter of a do-or-die play-in game. After beating Chicago to secure the eighth seed (they had the seventh-best record in the east in the regular season at 44-38) they matched up with the NBA’s best, Milwaukee. Miami made quick work of the Bucks pulling the rare eight-one upset and doing so in just five games. Then it took six games to get past New York and seven to beat Boston, after blowing a 3-0 lead and then beating the Celtics in a Game 7 in Massachusetts.

In Erik Spoelstra’s 15th year as an NBA head coach and the leader of the Heat he has again made more with less than just about any other whistle blower. Spo twice won NBA titles with LeBron James and the Heatles and won a third time as an assistant when Dwyane Wade lead the Heat to their first-ever title.

Butler is the star among nine undrafted player who have stepped up. The Heat’s small forward was on the same second-team All-NBA that Nikola Jokic was this year. Like Jokic and his co-star Murray, Butler is known for his ability to turn up his game come playoff time. In the six game loss to the Lakers where Butler was forced to carry and injured Heat team he averaged 26.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.8 helpers a game in his lone trip to the Finals four years ago. Those numbers are similar to what he’s produced on this run for the Heat.

Projected Starting Five

PG: Gabe Vincent
SG: Max Strus
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo


Jimmy Butler, forward, 6-7, 17 GP, 28.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 5.7 APG, 48% FG/36% 3FG/81% FT
Bam Adebayo, big, 6-9, 18 GP, 16.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 49% FG/0% 3FG/80% FT
*postseason stats

Playoff Jimmy™ has been fantastic in this postseason. He’s an all encompassing point forward that is also the point of attack defender for the Heat. In the best way possible, Butler is a maniac and a competitionolic. Butler is the leader of the Zombie, Vampire or whatever else you want to call them Heat, because despite it not making much sense, this team just will not die.

Also an all-world defender is Adebayo, who has twice been named an All-Star and was key in bringing home gold for Team USA at the last Olympics. Adebayo is an undersized center that doesn’t shoot but is a ranging wrecking ball on the defensive end. On offense, he’s a plus passer for a center but does not have a well-rounded game.

The two of Butler and Bam lead a very good Miami defense, which has found ways to stifle the third and fourth-place finishers in this year’s MVP race on their playoff run so far.

X-factor(s): Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin

Vincent was thrust in the Heat starting lineup in early February as former six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry struggled. Miami is 31-20 (including playoff games) since Spo moved the scrappy 6-3 guard into the starting five. Undrafted from UC Santa Barbara, he’s had four 20 or more point games in this postseason. Meanwhile Lowry, 37, hasn’t tallied a 20-point night in these playoffs, and hasn’t since the last time Miami played Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020’s bubble.

Martin has been the Heat’s second-best player behind Butler en route to the NBA Finals. The 6-foot-5 wing went for 26 points on 15 shots with 10 rebounds in the Heat’s Game 7 against Boston. Coming off the bench in all but three playoff games thus far, Martin is like Spo’s Bruce Brown, basically a sixth starter. Spo may opt for more size in Love initially against the Nuggets but Martin will be a huge part of the series.

How the Nuggets can beat them


(You can keep reading and I’ll give you more reasons but it’s size.)

There’s simply no way the Heat will be able to matchup with the Nuggets. Miami’s center, Bam, would be the second-shortest player in the. Nuggets starting five, trailing Jokic, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. MPJ did a great job helping on DeAndre Ayton in the Suns series. While Gordon has been an incredible performer who will likely draw the Butler assignment, just as he had LeBron and Durant. Jokic should be on Bam and can sag off, meaning his energy won’t be as taxed on defense and he can focus on rebounding and help.

Because of that size, Spo will have to pick carefully who he wants to put Butler on. Butler will likely get stints on both Jokic and Jamal Murray. But that leads to the follow up question of who can get a hand in the face of the 6-10 sharpshooting Porter? The Heat have only played a person as tall or taller than Porter for 160 of their 864 minutes in these playoffs, and those players are not very mobile.

The Heat’s defense is good, they’re just small.

That’s why size, strength, star power… and strong depth should give the Nuggets a huge leg up. I wrote this about the Suns and Lakers series as well, but the Nuggets are huge, with bigger bodies than the Heat at nearly every position on the court, Denver scored three-and-a-half more points in the paint per 100 possessions than the Heat during the playoffs while going dead even with them on defense. Jokic is far bigger and better than Bam, Love or whatever else Spo will throw at the Nuggets.

Denver is a far quicker team, scoring 5.5 more fastbreak points than the Heat in the postseason despite playing at a barely quicker place. Meaning the Nuggets can turn on the burners when needed.

This could help turn the tides against a Heat team who have lost three of their last four games and have had to play seven games over the past two weeks. This may force Miami into their bench a bit earlier in the series, though there is plenty of rest days between games later on.

The Murray, Porter, Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope factors are huge. One could make a pretty compelling case that six of the top eight players in this matchup, play for the Nuggets.

On top of it all, Jokic is the best player in this series, and it’s not close.

Another few things you should know

If you’re wondering how the Heat got here or saying they lack some punch, that’s because they do. Tyler Herro hurt his hand in the first game of the playoffs and has been out since, he’s a 20 point per game scorer for the Heat and the former Sixth Man of the Year. Herro is targeting a Game 3 return in the NBA Finals.

Nikola Jokic was suspended a season ago for an early year scrap with a Morris twin, who is no longer on the Heat. But Miami tried to leave their locker room at Ball Arena to fight Jokic and the Nuggets. That never happened but there was a lot of drama. Jokic would beat the Heat a few weeks later in Miami and celebrate his MVP in the club with his giant brothers.

Speaking of Ball Arena, Denver has only lost once this season when playing a west foe at Ball Arena with Jokic in the lineup and MPJ missed that game. While this is now an eastern rival, it shows that when the games count Denver has stepped up.

Still, the Heat haven’t won in Denver since 2016, not a single player that played for the Heat that night is still on the roster while Jokic and Murray were both coming off the bench at that point.

In fact, Denver is 9-1 in the last five years and has won six-straight against the Heat.

Jokic, who is 10-2 against Bam Adebayo, has cooked up. In their head-to-heads, Joki has taken 187 shots on Bam, who has made four All-Defensive Teams and has blocked three of those shots. Meanwhile, Bam has taken 127 shots in those 12 games, and Jokic has blocked three of them.

From Jokic on down, this is how tough of a draw Denver has been for Miami. Over the last five seasons, the 9-1 Denver has against Miami is the highest win percentage the Nuggets have against any NBA team in that span.

Denver is coming off a sweep while Miami went to seven last round, the better-rested team is 4-2 in the NBA Finals in that scenario

Spo’s father, Jon Spoelstra, was the Nuggets president and general manager for 90 days in 1989 before getting fired.

Like Spo, Michael Malone is one of the longest tenured coaches in the NBA. Malone has been amazing this postseason and if he can reach Spo’s level, Malone will end the year as one of the consensus great coaches in the league.

The Heat drafted Nikola Jovic with the 27th pick in this past year’s draft. Yeah, actually a different person than Nikola Jokic. Jovic was born in Great Britain but he’s also Serbian and the Nuggets actually had him on their draft board and worked him out last summer.

“It’s kind of funny to me the people always talking about our names,” Jovic said last summer. “I haven’t met him; I’ve always wanted to. I think he’s one of the best centers ever. Everything he does for the Nuggets and Serbia. I love him.”

The Heat aren’t the only Miami team playing for a title. The Florida Panthers will host the Vegas Golden Knights for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup. Game 3 of the NHL series will actually be played in South Florida between Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals on South Beach. The Panthers last went to the Stanley Cup in a losing effort to Avs, now they’re trying to follow Colorado on the Cup.

For Denver it could be titles in consecutive years, which has only happened once in history with an NBA and NHL champion in the same or consecutive years, when Boston had the Celtics in 1969, followed by the Bruins in 1970. If the Nuggets win in 5, they’ll even have the same record as last year’s Avs.


June 1: Game 1, 6:30 p.m. (ABC), Denver
June 4: Game 2, 6 p.m. (ABC), Denver
June 7: Game 3, 6:30 p.m. (ABC), Miami
June 9: Game 4, 6:30 p.m. (ABC), Miami
June 12: Game 5, 6:30 p.m. (ABC), Denver *
June 15: Game 6, 6:30 p.m. (ABC), Miami*
June 18: Game 7, 6 p.m. (ABC), Denver *


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