5 storylines to watch for during Nuggets-Heat 2023 NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Safe to say, the 2023 NBA Finals is gearing up to be absolutely electric.
Will it be the No. 1-seeded Nuggets led by the triple-double-dominant Jokic, Jamal Murray and Co.? Or will Himmy Buckets, Bam Adebayo and the No. 8-seeded Heat carve a special part in the storytelling of the league’s history?
Let’s take a look at five storylines to watch for from this series:
A first NBA ring for Denver
The Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals sweep of the No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers meant more than just a confidence boost. The Game 4 win officially booked the franchise’s first ever appearance in the NBA Finals, let alone winning a ring. But that all can change now.
Denver has played in the NBA for 47 seasons and made the playoffs 29 times, but each trip has born no fruit. The franchise is one of 12 to have never won it all, but this is the perfect year to pencil in its first. Jokic is solidifying his greatness, Murray is thriving both mentally and physically and the role players are all stepping up on both ends of the floor.
A championship for Denver also helps small markets like it did in 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks won the title to keep the Greek star in Milwaukee, silencing debates on whether superstars should leave for a bigger market if they fail to win it all. It’s not that Jokic has been rumored to leave Denver, but it helps other franchises feel more confident in sustaining what they’re building.
A No. 8 seed achieves extraordinary glory
Has No. 8 seed ever won the NBA Finals? The short answer is no. But one No. 8 seed reached the series: the New York Knicks in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. New York that year finished 27-23 and lost in five games to the No.1 San Antonio Spurs.
Miami this year went 44-38 in the regular season and are not your typical No. 8 seed given the talent on the roster. Butler, Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and more are all playing excellent, coordinated basketball and have one of the best coaches in Spoelstra in charge. So seeing the Heat pull off a title-winning season – with Tyler Herro being out with a broken hand he suffered in the first round – would be an extraordinary feat in the league’s history.
If they win, their run would include upsetting the No. 1-seeded Bucks – who had the best regular-season record – the No. 5-seeded Knicks and the No. 2-seeded Celtics, last season’s runner-up. Though Antetokounmpo missed most of the first-round series, Miami has proved this run is not a fluke.
Nikola Jokic’s legacy reaches new heights
When the NBA released its 75 best players of all time to commemorate the league’s 75th anniversary during the 2021-22 campaign, Jokic did not make the cut. But if you add everything he’s achieved this season, the discourse should change.
Going into the Finals, he already has two league MVPs, five All-Star nods, one Western Conference Finals MVP, three All-NBA First Team and two All-NBA Second Team selections and an NBA All-Rookie First Team spot. Now add a theoretical championship for a small-market Denver team with a highly likely Finals MVP to pair with and you have an all-timer given his consistent triple-double outputs from the center position.
He’s also just 28 years old and doesn’t rely on athleticism to do his thing. The Joker will be a menace to opponents for years to come.
Oh, and he was drafted during a Taco Bell commercial.
Don’t forget Jimmy Butler, either
If Jokic’s legacy would reach new heights with a potential title, what would a first ever ring do for Butler? He came up short in the bubble against LeBron James and the Lakers, but he’s been the key force again for Miami’s run this time.
The 33-year-old has six All-Stars, an All-NBA Second Team, three All-NBA Third Teams, five NBA All-Defensive First Teams and a Most Improved Player award to his name. Though it doesn’t exactly weigh up to what Jokic enters the series with, having an NBA title and potential Finals MVP to his name while guiding a No. 8 seed would be all-time folklore content.
It’s not just Butler whose status would rise considerably with a win. He’s had the help of multiple players who went undrafted. Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin are just some of the members of the squad who were overlooked, but whether they win the title, all have proved in some facet that other teams were wrong in doubting what they could offer to a team. Miami is one of the best in the business in discovering gems for a reason.
Erik Spoelstra rises among the coaching greats
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was named as one of the top 15 coaches of all time by the NBA to commemorate the league’s 75th anniversary, a list created just like it did for the top 75 players.
But even with that honor, he still flies as an underrated figure in both what Miami achieves and his longevity in a role that has seen fellow head coaches fired just a few years removed from winning a title (Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer, etc.). He coached Miami to two titles as a head coach in 2012 and 2013, with a third coming as an assistant in 2006.
After starting off in Miami as a video coordinator in 1995, it’s difficult to grasp how he’s never won a Coach of the Year award, let alone receive more recognition for optimizing his players to play better than what appears on paper. Coaching a No. 8 seed to a Finals is already an immense achievement, but winning it all would be the cherry on the top for one of the best schemers this league has seen.