So we know this year’s NBA finals matchup is the No. 1 seed in the West against the No. 8 seed in the East.
On paper, it looks like a mismatch. But when the No. 8 seed beats the Nos. 1, 2 and 5 seeds to get to the Finals, you have to take notice and say, “OK, wait a minute. Do seeds really mean anything at this point?”
Well, let's take a look at the players that make up these teams and see what the numbers tell us.
The bandwagon fan's guide to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals
We'll start at center, where it’s All-Star Nikola Jokic for the Nuggets and All-Star Bam Adebayo for the Heat – the only All-Stars on either team.
The Joker is averaging a triple-double in the playoffs – 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Adebayo is averaging 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists.
They played each other twice in the regular season:
- December 30 at Ball Arena, when Joker had a triple double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, and Adebayo had 22 points. The Nuggets won, 124-119.
- In Miami on February 13, Joker had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Adebayo had 19 points - and the Nuggets won 112-108.
The Heat will have to work a moving double-team on Jokic – have Adebayo in his face, then cheat over help from someone else.
The problem for them is that Jokic reads plays before they happen, and as soon as they double him he finds the open man with a dime.
So, this matchup is Nuggets all the way: Joker over Adebayo, and anyone else that may end up playing defense against him.
At the guard position – until Tyler Herro gets back from injury, which may be Game 3 – the Nuggets dominate the Heat.
Jamal Murray is averaging 28 points a game in the playoffs. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 12 points. Heat guards Gabe Vincent and Max Strus are averaging 13 and 10, respectively.
Again, advantage Nuggets.
At forward, you bring Jimmy Butler into the mix for Miami. He’s putting up 28.5 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists a game in the postseason.
That's the average points total of Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon combined. With Caleb Martin adding 14 points a game for the Heat, you have to give the forward advantage to Miami.
Now to the bench. For the Nuggets in the playoffs, really only Bruce Brown has come off the bench and played big minutes. He's putting up over 12 points and 4 rebounds a game.
After that, you've got Jeff Green with 4 points a game and Christian Braun with 2 points per contest.
The Heat bench is scoring far more points than the Nuggets’ reserves. Duncan Robinson knocks down three-pointers and scores 9 points a game.
The veterans chip in too, with Kyle Lowry putting in 9 per game and Kevin Loves scoring 7.
In total, the Heat bench is outscoring the Nuggets bench, 32-23.
So, the Nuggets have a clear advantage at center and guard. The Heat have better numbers at forward and on the bench.
But all these stats don't account for defense, which Aaron Gordon, Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown and Christian Braun play with a vengeance.
The bottom line is this: If Jokic and Butler offset each other, scoring about 30 points a game, the Nuggets just blow up the Heat with the other four starters, led by Murray's 28 per game.
Murray, Gordon, Porter Jr. and Caldwell-Pope outscore the Heat's other four starters, 68-54 on average. That's 14 points! If the Nuggets starters play as well as they have in the first three series, it'll be no contest on the scoreboard.
But that's why you play the game. Average points don't mean anything on the court. Who plays better that game that night wins.
Every sign points to the Nuggets winning this series. We'll see if predictions and stats and projections hold true, starting in Game 1 Thursday night.
Nuggets in the NBA Finals: Here's the schedule of games, airing on Denver7
Here are a few things to know about the Nuggets’ first-ever NBA Finals opponent:
- Tyler Herro, a 20-points-per-game scorer in the regular season, hasn’t played since April 16, when he was injured in the team’s first playoff game.
- The Heat is the second-ever No. 8 seed to advance to the Finals. The 1998-99 New York Knicks reached the Finals as an eighth seed in a lockout-shortened season.
- Miami is the first play-in team to win a playoff series. 2022-23 is the fourth year the NBA has used a play-in tournament to decide the final two seeds in each conference. This year’s Heat finished seventh in the East in the regular season, then lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament before beating the 10-seed Chicago Bulls to earn the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
- They’re the fifth No. 8 seed in NBA history to upset a No. 1 seed. They defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
- The Heat are just the third team in league history to finish the regular season last in points per game but reach the NBA Finals. The Heat averaged 109.5 points per game in the 2022-23 regular season.
- This postseason, they became the first No. 8 seed in league history to win a playoff game by 25 or more points.