Will the Denver Nuggets be able to take home the Larry O'Brien trophy for the first time in franchise history?
The Nuggets reached the NBA Finals after they swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Center Nikola Jokic earned a 30-point triple-double in Game 4, working efficiently in the low and high posts to find easy passes and shots near the rim as the Nuggets took a 113-111 victory at Crypto.com Arena.
“I think that's why playoffs are so nice and so interesting, because you don't care about how tired you are,” Jokic said, via the Associated Press. “You don't care about minutes, fouls, shots, percentage. You just want to win a game. Some plays today we weren't playing good defense sometimes, (but) you can win it in every kind of possible way.”
The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series. The Heat nearly walked away with a sweep, but still managed to stop the Celtics from taking the series after they tied things up at three games apiece.
What are some bold predictions for the Nuggets before they face off against the Heat on Thursday?
3. Jamal Murray will continue his stellar scoring streak
If one thing could define the Nuggets, it would be their free-flowing and high-powered offense.
Denver took fifth place in the NBA in offensive rating, or the number of points a team scored per 100 possessions, during the regular season with 116.8. Their offense didn't slow down under the bright lights of the NBA playoffs, with their offensive rating increasing to 119.7 during the postseason.
Every high-level NBA offense needs at least a few natural scorers.
Guard Jamal Murray, the former 7th-overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, averages 27.7 points per game on a 48% clip from the field and 39.8% from the 3-point line. The 6-foot-4-inch guard scored 37 points during Games 2 and 3 against the Lakers, guiding the Nuggets to five and 11-point wins over Los Angeles on their way to a four-game sweep.
Murray will have to fight through a tough Miami defense to continue his impressive scoring in the NBA Playoffs.
The Heat have held their opponents to 107.4 points per game in their 18 playoff games, according to ESPN. They held Boston to 84 points during their Game 7 win at TD Garden, limiting the Celtics to 39% from the field and 21.4% from the 3-point line.
The defensive ratings of guards Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, or “the number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows while that individual player is on the court,” come in at 108.9 and 113.2, respectively, according to NBA.com. Vincent's number puts him near Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell. Strus sits by Celtics guard Derrick White and Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox.
Still, if the Nuggets can continue finding ways to get Murray his fair share of open looks, he should have a good chance at continuing the scoring he has improved upon during his NBA career.
2. Denver's defense will be good enough to hold off the Heat
Denver's defense will need to find ways to hold off some of Miami's top scorers if they want to guarantee a win in the NBA Finals.
Butler is scoring 28.5 points per game in 17 playoff games, according to ESPN. Five Heat players who have played in 17 games or more are scoring in double digits during the playoffs, including center Bam Adebayo, who took second place on the team with 16.8 points per contest.
The Nuggets' defense has shown signs of improvement over the years. Denver's defense took 15th place in the league with a 111.5 defensive rating during the 2021-22 regular season and dead last among teams that made the playoffs with a rating of 121.9 during last year's playoffs. This year, they posted a figure of 111.7 during the playoffs, good enough for eighth place among postseason squads.
But will it be enough to stop the Heat from claiming victory and earning their fourth NBA championship in franchise history?
The Nuggets have capable defenders in guards Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Brown knew what his role would be for the Nuggets at the beginning of the season and has proven to be a bright spot on Denver's defense throughout the team's playoff run.
“I know why I'm here,” Brown said in October, via DNVR. “I'm here to play defense.”
1. The Nuggets will take the series in six games
The Heat won't go down in the Finals without a fight.
Miami fought to the NBA Finals behind a tough, experienced corp of veteran players and an accomplished head coach in Erik Spoelstra, proving they were much more than met the eye with their eighth-seed placement. The Heat will pose a challenge in the Finals, enough to take at least a few games on the NBA's biggest stage.
But Denver head coach Mike Malone wouldn't want it any other way.
Malone and the Nuggets have shown throughout the postseason and beyond that their roster is at least up to the challenge. They were able to take down the Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns so far. Denver has made the playoffs in the last five seasons under Malone, including an appearance in the Western Conference Finals during the 2019-20 season.
“This is going to be the biggest challenge of our lives,” Malone said on Wednesday, via AP NBA writer Tim Reynolds. “And that's the way it should be.”
The Nuggets will tip off against the Heat at 6:30 p.m. MDT on Thursday in Ball Arena. The game will be broadcasted on ABC.